Archive - August 2009
World of Strange
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|August 29th, 2009|
The Artman Cometh
"Mr. Hembeck!! Mr. Hembeck!!"
"Yes, little Johnny?..."
"Mr. Hembeck, do you ever run out of ideas for those drawings you sell on Ebay?"
"Why yes, little Johnny, I most certainly do."
"And when that happens, what do you DO?"
"Well, sometimes I dream up new takes on always popular subjects, and other times, I reach back into my past--sometimes way, WAY back--and come up with new versions of some of my very own old artwork."
"Gee, Mr. Hembeck, that sure sounds awful lame."
"Maybe so, little Johnny, maybe so, but at these prices, what do expect--Michelangelo??"
"Huh? What do any of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have to do with THIS, Mr. Hembeck?...."
End scene, drop curtain, cue applause (...wishful thinking, perhaps?...)!
Yup, today, we offer up three fresh illos featuring Superman, Spider-Man, and a pair of racing Flashes, but new this time out are some redone glimpses into my distant, distant past:
Cartoon Fred interviewing Spider-Man as seen in the very first panel of the very first Dateline:@#$! installment.
Cartoon Fred (dressed as Wonder Woman for reasons that currently escape me--but the answer of which can easily be found in THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS, still on sale (see above--making this, I guess, a plug within a plug. Yes, it's true--I have NO shame...)!--interviewing Hawkman from another early Dateline:@#$! strip.
Iron Man on roller skates, an image initially found in my very first professionally published work, back in IRON MAN #112.
So, go take a look, and decide if you like what you see--or if you find yourself agreeing with little Johnny (...#*%ing wise @$$ kid!...)
|FLASH versus FLASH!!|
|SPIDER-MAN interviewed by Cartoon Fred!!|
|HAWKMAN interviewed by Cartoon Fred!!|
|IRON MAN on Roller Skates!!|
|And remember, the images magically enlarge
if you pass your mouse over 'em!!
Here's access to our current Ebay auctions!!
|August 23rd, 2009|
|What Movies Did You Watch In The Sixties,
There's a certain category of heretofore unseen movies I'm aggressively seeking out during my current cinema-watching obsession--flicks from the mid-to-late sixties back when I was in my early teens that, due to their quality, popularity, or simply because of an intriguing title, have been stuck in me head for all the decades since. I figure, hey, what am I waiting for? Might as well see 'em while I can.
Previous films to fall under this mandate were "In The Heat Of The Night" and "Blowup". Earlier this month, when TCM broadcast an entire day of James Coburn, three more just cried out for a belated look see.
"The President's Analyst" (1967) was probably the one I looked forward too most, advertised as being a broadly comedic political satire, with Coburn taking the title role. Well, despite some after the fact reviews found on the web (like this one) that would lead one to believe that Jonathan Swift himself was behind the camera lens, to me, to me it just played as an occasionally effective (Coburn's conversational scenes with Godfrey Cambridge and Severn Darden have real weight) and often broadly silly (particularly spots featuring Arte Johnson and William Daniels) parable. The finale where we discover that all the nefarious deeds are the responsibility of (SPOILER WARNING) The Phone Company stuck me as less than inspired, truth to tell. Coburn is fine, it's just the laughs aren't as plentiful as I'd assumed going in, and the satiric points are way less than subtle. On the plus side, the films fairly screams "sixties", so as a nostalgic time-capsule, it more than delivers.
(Trivia note: after the film was completed, while it might've been considered okay to mock the (never seen nor heard) Chief Exec, the FBI was less than thrilled with the way they were being portrayed, and pressured the filmmakers into changing the names of both the FBI and the CIA, assiduously redubbing then as the fictitious Central Enquiries Agency (CEA) and Federal Bureau of Regulation (FBR). Who SAID J. Edgar was paranoid, hmm?...)
|"What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?" (1966) featured Dick Shawn co-starring with Coburn
in this WWII based comedy. Generally, I give
war movies a wide, wide berth, but this being
a comedy and all--with a title like that,
how could it not be?--I figured I'd give
it a chance. I knew I was in trouble, though,
when I learned via the opening credits that
this was a Blake Edwards production (though
the script, from Edwards story, was written
by a pre "Exorcist" William Peter
Blatty). Much of the director's work is widely
held in high esteem by both the public and
the critics, but none of the several Edwards'
flicks I've seen (admittedly decades ago
now) impressed me overmuch, certainly nowhere
nearing their otherwise robust critical reception.
But hey, that was then, this was now--maybe
I'd find myself digging this one.
The plot concerns Shawn--as an uptight, by the book type--and Coburn--in contrast, typically laid back--assigned to invade a small Italian town, one it turns out, is full of soldiers all to eager to surrender, as long as they're allowed to hold a raucous festival of wine, women, and song, as scheduled. Reluctantly, the two US officers agree, and all goes well until a PR officer (played by Harry Morgan) comes into town to check out the results. At this point, there are a few potentially funny farcical situations (the Italians, having won the American's uniforms playing cards the night before, leave the GI's clothed instead in their outfits--and thus, appearing to be the enemy in the eyes of Morgan, a subterfuge Coburn does his best to maintain), but then, in the film's final third, Nazis are introduced into the mix, turning this into more of a traditional war story. True, it's the sorta war story you'd find in a sixties era SGT .FURY issue--lotsa punching out Germans, light on the bloodshed--but if it ever had me, it lost me there. The title--which, I discovered, is spoken only in the film's original trailer, asked by a child to a civilian clad Coburn--drew me in, but I guess sometimes, you just can't judge a movie by its title...
Though with a title like "Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round" (1966), you may--like me--have absolutely NO idea!! At least with the previous two movies, the titles were pretty self-explanatory, but "Dead Heat On A Merry-Go Round"? No clue whatsoever.
Turns out to be a caper movie. Coburn plays a suave con-man, who goes from the bed of one beautiful woman to another, all in his quest to obtain the necessary funds to pull off his dream job, knocking off a bank situated smack dab in the middle of the (then) futuristic LA Airport the very same day the Russian Premier is scheduled to land nearby. Along the way, he even seduces a recent widow played by Rose Marie! Herman Glimsher was never like THIS, lemme tell ya!! He even winds up marrying one of these conquests, primarily because she can (unknowingly) help facilitate his complicated plan (aren't they all?...).
I found myself (despite the languid pace some critics found objectionable) enjoying this movie far more than either of the other two, but ultimately, I have to assign this to the "disappointment" column as well. Why? Well, despite memorably vivid Los Angeles location shots, the whole thing just deflates entirely during the much anticipated heist portion of the picture. Y'see, (SPOILER WARNING), it all goes off without a hitch, and Coburn and his three partners (who barely register as characters, incidentally) get away scot free!! There IS an ironic turn of events regarding his wife at film's end, but it's not nearly enough to make up for the otherwise nothing finale. If they had just tripped up somehow, I would've felt so much more satisfied, and would've come away with a much higher opinion of things. Oh well--at least all the Sally Rogers seducing was kept off-screen, so there's that.
Oh, and there was THIS guy, in his screen debut...
|That's right--Harrison Ford. He plays a bellboy,
he has a few simple lines, and his scene
lasts less than a minute. But apparently,
it's what this flick is most famous for,
as I discovered reading about it on the web
afterwards. (I always wait until after I've
seen my movie de jour before I read up on
it, but even without a hint going in, I recognized
ol' Harrison the moment he walked on screen--even
without the whip!...).
Conclusion? James Coburn is more charming than I'd given him credit for. I'm glad I finally got around to watching the first and third of these, though I coulda done without Blake Edwards WWll "comedy". However, I can't actually RECOMMEND "The President's Analyst" or "Dead Heat On A Merry-Go Round", unless you're looking to wallow in a certain type of sixties nostalgia. Storywise--and laughwise--they both came up a bit too short for me.
(And oh yeah, that title? It's the name of a play Coburn supposedly wrote in one of his con-man guises, this time as literary-minded exterminator, and it's good enough to convince his wife-to-be of his lofty--and on the level--aspirations. Hey, what ELSE were they gonna call it? "The Big Heist With No Particular Payoff"? I think they made the right choice--it got ME to watch. It took 43 years, true, but still, that title hooked me, slow-acting or not...)
|August 19th, 2009|
Ever Have A Clark Bar With A Mickey Chaser?...
"Manhattan Melodrama" was a 1934 film starring Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy (the very next film for both of the latter two was the first of the popular "Thin Man" series, with this flick unintentionally serving as a warm-up for their pairing). The plot (SPOILER WARNING!!) follows a pair of boyhood buddies who remain close friends, despite the divergent paths taken, Gable a shady gambler and Powell an incorruptible district attorney, with Loy the woman who switches over from Clark to Bill, miraculously causing no hard feelings between the men folk. But when Gable turns murderer twice over (albeit for semi-justifiable reasons) , he finds himself on trial before DA Powell, gallantly putting up no real fight so as to assure his bestest buddy a clear road to the governorship of New York! (Personal note: there's a quick shot of the state capitol building towards the end of the film, and as someone who once drove from Troy over to Albany weekly to get my comics at Fantaco, it was a bit jarring to see the same edifice, virtually unchanged, that I once passed on each of my visits, decades earlier). Powell tries to step in at the eleventh hour and block Gable's trip to the hot seat, but Clark was having none of it. Never has anybody been so chipper heading for an electric seat-warming!! A good--if not great--movie.
The movie starts with the pair as young kids, with the Gable character played by Mickey Rooney!! That's right--we're supposed to believe that Mickey Rooney would somehow grow up to look like Clark Gable!! Having long since witnessed how Mickey actually aged, even without a moustache, he ain't NEVER looked like Gable!! (And the kid playing Powell junior seemed to bear just as little resemblance to his adult counterpart, too...)
I confess I don't think I've EVER seen a William Powell pic before, and definitely no "Thin Man"s. I think that fact that, based on still photos, i always thought Powell a bit too odd looking to be a believable leading man, which kept me away from his movies. Having now seen him, while yes, he still hardly looks like a classic romantic lead, I concede the appeal. His staccato delivery--the sort Conan O'Brien and his writers like to mock good-naturedly upon occasion--cries "thirties', and is all the more endearing for it. The next time TCM runs a "Thin Man" flick, I'll be there--count on it.
Shirley Ross--famous for later debuting "Thanks For the Memories" as a duet with Bob Hope--is featured as a faux ethnic Cotton Club singer (geez, why didn't they just get a Boswell sister?...). crooning Rodgers and Hart's "The Bad In Every Man". If that title doesn't sound familiar--and it sure didn't to me--the tune should: I Knew I'd heard it SOMEWHERE, but before I could figure it out, Ms. Ross was gone. Thanks goodness for Google--turns out the ditty wasn't a hit, so rather than just cut their losses and move on, they tried attaching some NEW lyrics to it a year later, transforming it into the standard, "Blue Moon"--maybe you've heard of it?...
And lastly, this turned out to be the last film the notorious gangster John Dillinger ever saw, as he was gunned down by police upon leaving the theater (a scene replicated, I'm told--using actual clips from the vintage flick--in the new Johnny Depp starrer, "Public Enemies").
Odds are this'll turn up again on TCM sometime soon, but if you can't wait that long, here's the first of ten YouTube parts (I'm sure you can easily access the rest once you get going).
Fun film, but I'm still agog at the notion that someone thought that, somehow, someway, Mickey Rooney was gonna grow up and become Rhett Butler!? Frankly my dear, that's damn hard to believe!!
|August 18th, 2009|
Back in 1974, DC Comics published 7 bi-monthly issues of RIMA THE JUNGLE GIRL. Boasting striking covers by editor Joe Kubert (who also, I suspect, provided breakdowns for Nestor Redondo to follow with his his lushly illustrated panel art ), the thing that really caught my attention about the book--no jungle enthusiast I--was the fact that the series was based on an actual novel, real literature, not some glorified pulp magazine (no offense meant to pulp magazine heroes, mind you). Of course, the fact that I'd never before HEARD of said literary classic--1904's "Green Mansions", written by William Henry Hudson--may've intrigued me somewhat, albeit not nearly enough to seek out the original novel for a read through.
However, with the source material's name stuck firmly in my head for decades, when I recently came across a listing for a 1959 film adaptation of "Green Mansions" on the TCM broadcast schedule, how could I possibly pass it up (especially since devoting a couple of hours to a flick is just SOOOOO much easier than reading a whole book!!...)?
Especially with a cast headed up by Anthony Perkins and Lee J. Cobb.
And as Rima?...
C'mon, how could it possibly be bad?
Well, how much time you got?...
Okay, it wasn't AWFUL, but--despite the gorgeous, otherworldly jungle photography, filmed in widescreen Cinemascope--things just don't quite jell. Directed by then husband Mel Ferrer--and projected as the first of several projects done in tandem by the couple, but proving ultimately to be the one and only--Hepburn makes a lovely Rima, but at age 29, appears a wee bit too long in the tooth to play the nature communing teen-ager. Anthony Perkins, fine playing wackos and juvenile leads in light fare, fails to convince as a gritty adventurer on a mission to find gold in the wilds of South America, seeking revenge for reasons never clearly explained and finding love instead. And Lee J. Cobb? Hidden behind a full-faced white beard, his overacting is absolutely dazzling as he bellows one line after another, including that reliable old gem, "You don't even know what love IS!!" And let's not forget Henry Silva--last seen as a Korean embroiled in a karate duel with Frank Sinatra in "The Manchurian Candidate"--as a jungle native looking to kill Rima so as to impress his tribe's chief, daddy Sessue Hayakawa (whose films, incidentally, TCM devoted this entire day to, which certainly allowed their schedulers a whole LOT of leeway!!). Silva's scene allowing ants, bees, and bugs to sting his bare chest to prove his worth as a warrior is not nearly as gruesome as it sounds, but actually a whole lot sillier.
So, was it exciting? Not really. Romantic? I'm a chump for romance, but I wasn't buying this pairing. Lavish cinematography? Yeah, but it was certainly no "Blowup', baby fawns or not.
Am I glad I saw it? Yup, but only cuz now my curiosity is totally satisfied. (Though I still don't know why Tony Perkins decided to take a nap in his a canoe with a some rapids clearly beckoning up ahead! Geez, what a psycho!!..)
|August 17th, 2009|
Funny how I'd totally forgotten the above image of a topless Vanessa Redgrave, her arms conveniently folded to prevent viewers with too good a look at her goodies, since it--and several variations thereof--were quite prevalent in the print media of the mid-sixties. But it all came back to me immediately when, mid-way through Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blowup" (1966), she doffed her shirt in photographer David Hemmings studio (while still maintaining a modicum of modesty throughout the entire, extended scene, thanks to either being shot from the rear, or falling back on the ever handy folded arms trick ).
I'd never seen "Blowup" before--I was too young to get into the theater when it was first released, kept out primarily by a scene depicting a romp between Hemmings and two young girls, both seen entirely--if only briefly--nude. An interesting fact that I garnered on the flick's Wikipedia page was that
"MGM did not gain approval for the film under the MPAA Production Code in the United States. The code's collapse and thorough revision was foreshadowed when MGM released the film through a subsidiary distributor and Blowup was shown widely in North American cinemas",
...meaning that the film we discussed here yesterday, "Baby Face", was largely responsible for the tightening of film censorship, and 33 years later, "Blowup" was largely responsible for the relaxing of same! And when I sat down to watch the movie--which I'd taped off of TCM several weeks ago--I had no idea of this happy parallel! Sometimes these things simply work out like that, I guess...
Going in, I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew was that, A) a photographer accidentally takes some pictures of a murder, which he belatedly discovers while blowing up prints in his darkroom; B) The Yardbirds play a number; and C.) there's some brief nudity. But as I knew this wasn't gonna be a standard, linear type pic, I was also afraid of enduring an abundance of pretentious clap-trap!!
Well, there IS some--with a key scene revolving around a group of college students in white-face miming a tennis game, how could there not be? But some of it is INSPIRED clap-trap, such as having the entire audience--save a single dancing couple--stand stone-faced and entirely still throughout The Yardbirds entire number, until Jeff Beck's Pete Townsend-like destruction of his guitar sends them into a frenzy!!
The story is slight--it's all up there in the preceding paragraph, folks--but is nonetheless effectively told, despite lacking any true resolution. It doesn't matter much, though, because this movie is just absolutely gorgeous to look at!!
I've never had a similar reaction to any other movie, but before long, I found myself just continuously admiring how each frame was composed, how color was utilized, and how each shot would dissolve into the next! Suddenly, I felt as if I was attending film school!! The driving scenes alone are enough to dazzle. Storywise, Antonioni may've been lacking somewhat, but in this film at least, I found his visual eye without peer!!
One other observation, about billing. Redgrave, despite appearing in only a few, admittedly key scenes, has top billing. Given her role, I'm willing to accede her the honor. But why Sarah Miles--who turns up in only a pair of short scenes mainly to allow the photog someone to talk to (her part isn't even necessary for the Wiki synopsis), why she receives second billing over David Hemmings--who's in EVERY scene, and practically every frame as well--is beyond me. Calling "Blowup" a Sarah Miles flick is a little like calling "Baby Face" a John Wayne starrer, y'know?
I had my doubts going in--why do you think it took me several weeks to pop it into the VCR?--but I came away surprisingly impressed with "Blowup"--though I'm STILL wondering who won that imaginary tennis game...
|August 16th, 2009|
Okay, here's your head's up:
TCM is running "Baby Face" at 4:30 AM (eastern time) Wednesday morning, the 19th (set your tape/DVR Tuesday night, the 18th, before you go to bed).
What exactly IS "Baby Face", you may well ask? A 1933 movie starring Barbara Stanwyck that I'd previously never heard of, but was intrigued enough by the TCM listing to check out.
What'd the listing say?
A beautiful schemer sleeps her way to the top of a banking empire.
Now, if this had been the blurb promoting some flick from the fifties of sixties, I wouldn't even have thought twice about bothering to watch, but 1933? THIS I had to see!
Good move, cuz not only did this turn out to be a pretty decent flick (if not a bona fide cinema classic), but the story BEHIND the movie was even more interesting! Not bothering the Google the flick beforehand, I didn't even know until after watching the film that I was viewing a recently discovered print of the original, long thought lost uncensored version of a key movie, one that prompted a much stricter adherence to the heretofore lax Production Code--AND, as TIME reported at the time,
When the Hays organization ordered portions of Baby Face changed, it caused one of the studio rows between Darryl Zanuck and Harry Warner as a result of which Zanuck quit Warners, formed a new company called Twentieth Century Pictures, Inc.
Surprisingly, scenes featuring an old German cobbler quoting Nietzsche to Stanwyck featured the most crucial revisions. Why? Well, his advice to the young woman--previously pimped out to all sorts of men starting from age 14 by her then recently deceased father--was as follows:
A woman, young, beautiful, like you can get anything she wants in the world because you have power over men. But you must use men, not let them use you. You must be a master, not a slave. Exploit yourself. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities. Use men to get things you want.
This bit of rather startling advice was redubbed--and watered down--to,
A woman, young beautiful, like you can get anything she want in the world, but there is a right and a wrong way. Remember the price of the wrong way is much too great. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities. Donít let people mislead you. You must be a master, not a slave. Be clean. Be strong, defiant. And you will be a success.
And storywise, Stanwyck really DOES sleep her way to the top of a banking empire, starting at the very bottom, and eventually making her way all the way to the very top. (Interestingly, the only character she shows any loyalty to--and on several occasions, is very adamant in doing so--is her co-worker at her father's speakeasy, Chico, an attractive light-skinned black woman prone to singing the blues. Considering the various demeaning--and depressing--bit parts played by African-American actors in several of the thirties and forties flicks I've been screening, it was refreshing to see a black character come off in a relatively positive light. Of course, once Stanwyck reaches the penthouse, her erstwhile gal pal is employed as her maid, though they generally converse as equals. Hey, it WAS 1933--you can't expect miracles, y'know?...)
My favorite bit occurred about mid-way through, when office manager Douglas Dumbrille--so memorable as the stuffed-shirt foil in several Marx Brothers movies--begins pawing Barbara atop a desk only moments after all the other workers had filed out of the office, and Stanwyck stops him, indicating they 'd be better served with a little more privacy. She then slowly backs away, enters into a room clearly marked "Ladies", and suggestively beckons him to follow! Which, after a furtive glance around, he eagerly does!
C'mon, when do you ever see anything like THAT in an old movie? A three-way with Margaret Dumont would've made the situation only slightly racier!!...
|It should be noted that a young John Wayne
appears briefly in one scene (just before
the toilet tryst) as one of her conquests,
past tense, as we never see the pair pair
off. And the joke on TCM viewers is that
this film is the final one being run on their
full day of John Wayne movies (each day in
August is wholly devoted to a different star,
y'see), a film that fully features John for
all of, oh, two minutes tops! Wayne fans
are sure to remember "The Alamo",
but more than likely to forget this. But
hey, I sure won't!
So, set your VCRs!
But if it somehow slips by you, you can always try YouTube:
Here's Part 1; the rest will undoubtedly follow.
And here's the "Baby Face" imdb page, and here's a longer article with further background info, and here's another still.
More movie talk anon!
|August 15th, 2009|
|By The Time I Get To Yaphank...
40 years ago today, I was a 16 year old living in Yaphank, a small town out on Long Island, about 50 miles from NYC. My future wife Lynn, several years younger than I, was living in Woodstock, NY at the same time. Neither of us attended the now-famous concert that occurred during that long-ago weekend (which wasn't actually held in Woodstock, but you all know that...).
I wasn't even aware of the thing beforehand, but afterwards? Whoa. The documentary movie was my first R-rated film (hard to believe it'd be anything more than PG-13 these days), and of course, i ran out and bought the triple album of concert highlights and played it incessantly.
30 years ago, there was the first, tepid attempt at putting on an anniversary concert. Lynn and I, recently wed, were actually living in Woodstock at the time. However, the organizer's were unable to secure a location to mount their show in either Woodstock or Bethel, so, in desperation, they resorted to utilizing the grounds of an abandoned, short-lived quarter-horse race track known as Parr Meadows out on Long Island.
That's right--when the original Woodstock concert was thrown, I was in Yaphank. When the 10th anniversary show was mounted in Yaphank, I was in Woodstock!! Hey, what were the odds?
I skipped the 25 anniversary show as well, even though we were living in Kingston at the time, the next town over from Woodstock. I have a very clear memory of that weekend, being chased out of the the local community pool with nearly four-year old Julie in tow due to menacing thunderclaps and seeing a number of helicopters flying low overhead, bound for the concert site. Somehow, it almost made me feel as if I was there--and truth to tell, that was as close as I wanted to get.
Y'know, I love the myth of Woodstock--it's such a NICE story--but I honestly don't think I'd've done very well in the rather primitive conditions folks found themselves in had I actually attended. At least, not without a big ol' heaping helping of the infamous brown acid--and I've never taken acid in my life! But I may've needed to then, just to slog through. Ah well, better just to watch the movie at the local cinema and spin those three discs on my record player, dig?..
|August 11th, 2009|
|Not So Secret Six!
Here's a half dozen more drawings to feast yer peepers on!
CAPTAIN AMERICA and SPIDER-MAN!!
|DAREDEVIL and The BLACK WIDOW!!|
|SUPERMAN versus CAPTAIN MARVEL!!|
|SPIDER-MAN loves Mary Jane!!|
|CAPTAIN AMERICA versus The RED SKULL!!|
|Click the above images to see 'em larger--you
know the drill!
And go here to access our current Ebay auctions!
|August 8th, 2009|
|25 Movies To Discuss--Believe It!
Sorry about the paucity of blogging--I've either been at the drawing board (and more about that soon) or parked in front of the tube, watching movies! Given the choice of writing one of these entries or catching a lost classic on good ol' TCM, well, currently my inclinations lean towards the latter. But since I don't want you folks to forget about me entirely--and because after each private screening, I do have thoughts I'm anxious to share, I'm gonna type up some impressions of the various flicks I've viewed since last I updated you. These are far from full fledged reviews--more like fleeting impressions or anecdotes--and are presented in roughly the same order as I saw them (a pair on the Fox Movie Channel, one at the local two buck multiplex, and all the rest on Turner Movie Classics), and all are first-timers with me.You can access each film's imdb page via the link on the movie's title, and the Wikipedia page (if it has one) via the link on the date. There's even a few of these films available to watch online! I'll try and make this quick--I still have about a half dozen tapes freshly filled with movies I want to get to, but for now, deep breath, cuz here we go...
"Go, Johnny, Go" (1959)
Chuck Berry teams up with Alan Freed and recurring "Adventures of Superman" baddie, Herb Vigran, to advance young Jimmy Clanton's singing career. Clanton as a romantic lead is tepid, but Chuck shows some real comedic chops, handling his lines with an assured ease. Nobody sings their big hits--go figure--though Jackie Wilson is explosive while practically inventing the Moonwalk! Conversely, Eddie Cochran sings a very lame number that sounds like it was based on "Home On The Range", stopping mid-song to slow dance with his guitar--which looks even worse than it sounds! The Flamingoes excel as well. Worth seeing for SOME of the musical acts and the novelty of Berry's fine acting.
"The First Auto" (1927)
William Demarest--"My Three Sons" Uncle Charly--provides comic relief in a role billed as "The Town Cut-up", juggling eggs and later pouring water down a funnel inserted into his friends pants! For that alone, this silent movie is a treat, but the story of a father-son tandem on opposing sides of the "get a horse" debate spanning nearly thirty years (the late 1890s right up to 1927) takes a macabre turn when, after the broadcast comes to an end, TCM's Robert Osborne comes out and, Paul Harvey like, tells the REST of the story: the actor playing the son was killed in a car crash just before production was completed. No, NOT in the big race that comprises the film's climax, but on the way to the studio to FILM that very scene! Longshots and helmets helped disguise this crucial fact, though I DID wonder why dad (a late convert to wheels versus hooves) is shown celebrating his new auto dealership during the final frames with the town's mayor and not his offspring, even though his son's name is right up there on the billboard...
"Tennessee Johnson" (1942)
I was so stunned to learn that someone made a movie about Andrew Johnson--y'know, Lincoln's successor and the first President to face impeachment?--so much so that I just HAD to watch it!! Turns out he was a pretty good guy and none of it was really his fault!! Mostly, it was Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore, in his ever-present wheel-chair) trying to wrest control of the government from Johnson. Wisely, Honest Abe is kept off-screen so as not to over-shadow the film's star. John "Perry White" Hamilton appears in one scene for about fifteen seconds, looks like he's about to say something, but then gets up and walks off silently with the rest of the politicos. The title role was handled by Van Heflin--whose sister, Nora Heflin, played the mother of Susan Lucci's "All My Children" character for nearly thirty years, up until her passing--meaning I sat there during most of the movie, thinking, "Holy Cow!! President Andrew Johnson was Erica Kane's UNCLE!?! Whoda thot?..."
"Remember The Night" (1940)
Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck get together in this Preston Sturges romantic comedy several years before their iconic turns in "Double Indemnity" (one of my all-time favorites). Nice to see things work out a bit better for them THIS time around (even if she DOES ultimately wind up in the clink...)
"The Locked Door" (1929)
Here's a confession--I will watch ANY movie made in 1929. There's just something that totally fascinates me about the earliest of talkies, films that are also bona-fide relics of the Roaring Twenties. This one turns out to be the first starring role for the aforementioned Ms. Stanwyck (after a brief walk-on in a single earlier film), and it's creaky in a mesmerizing manner. Rod La Rocque (who would later go on to play a cinematic version of The Shadow) overacts hilariously as a happy-go-lucky cad, with a death scene that has to be seen to believed (he's just as cheery taking his final breathes as he was earlier in the movie, chasing after young Barbara!). Please note: the actor playing her hubby is NOT the same William Boyd who would later gain world-wide fame as Hopalong Cassidy. I didn't discover this fact until AFTER I watched the movie and Googled it, thinking the whole time, "Gee, Hoppy sure looked different back in the twenties...".
"The Good Bad Girl" (1931)
The same year she walked down the aisle with Henry Frankenstein and had Jimmy Cagney rather rudely serve her some fresh grapefruit, Mae Clarke topped the bill here as a moll who wanted out from her gangster boy-friend (whose gimmick was to recite "Mary Had A Little Lamb" for his victims, shooting them just as he reaches the final line. Don't ask...). The best thing about the movie for me was be getting my very first look at Marie Provost--infamous for her gruesome demise, immortalized in song by Nick Lowe--who plays Clarke's gal pal with a Betty Boop-like exuberance. She's a lot of fun to watch, but I swear, when, midway through the proceedings, she shows up at Mae's in-laws with a chihuaha under her arm, a cold chill went down my spine. If she only knew...
"Attorney For The Defense" (1932)
After mistakenly sending an innocent man to the electric chair (Dwight Frye--innocent?...), Edmund Lowe attempts to repent by becoming a top-flight defense attorney. Y'know, years ago, SCTV ran a memorable skit that satirized the outrageously unbelievable behavior found in thirties' era courtroom dramas, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that this movie was the template for THAT particular parody!! The climatic scenes are just plain wild, and Lowe is a very appealing actor. Hardly a classic, but a lot of fun nonetheless.
"Baby Face" (1933)
TCM is running this again on August 18th, and I'll tell you more about it a few days beforehand, should you be inclined to tape it (or Tivo it, for those of you with one of those newfangled machines). Trust me, you may very well want to! It's pretty amazing on a number of levels. Check back with me later for more details on this one...
|"Broken Blossoms" (1919)
Of all the movies on this list, this is one of only two I almost bailed on before finishing. I stuck with it, but boy, is it ever slooooow. So, I go online afterwards only to discover this is a cinema classic! Huh--coulda fooled me. You got 26 year old Lillian Gish playing a 15 year old for director D.W. Griffith, abused by her brutish prizefighter father, Donald Crisp, later shown some rare kindness from an older Asian man. In the end, they all die. Fun stuff. Most ridiculous is when Crisp orders his daughter to smile. You'd think she'd merely force her trembling lips upward, but no--Gish uses two fingers to manually push her mouth into a smiling configuration! I thought that was just plain silly, but I later found out critics were wildly enamored by the gesture. But see for yourself--the whole film is available on Google video.
"Thunder Road" (1958)
Star Robert Michum's fingerprints are all over this story of back country moonshiners evading both the law and big-time gangsters looking to muscle into their business. Mitchum wanted Elvis to play his younger brother--and Presley very much wanted to--but the Colonel wanted WAY too much money, so the part instead went to Michum's oldest son, James. Gene Barry plays a fed, and singer Keely Smith warbles a few tunes, and looks uncomfortable playing the romantic lead (even though her scenes are very limited). Mitchell Ryan, who I initially encountered as Alex Hunter on "All My Children" (and who's still acting to this very day), made his film debut in "Thunder Road". I was somewhat disappointed with this film--the dialog is a bit uneven, as are some of the characterizations. The film's poster inspired a classic Springsteen tune, though (Bruce never quite made it into the theater), so there's that...
"The Soloist" (2009)
Both Robert Downey, Jr and Jamie Foxx turn in superb performances in this film based on a true story about a reporter who befriends a homeless man saddled with mental illness while still possessing exquisite musical skills, but I think Roger Ebert said it best in his review: "The Soloist" has all the elements of an uplifting drama, except for the uplift." Too true--the ending is hardly what I expected it to be, but I guess that's real life. Doesn't always make satisfying drama, though..
"Shadow of a Doubt" (1943)
Is Teresa Wright's favorite uncle (Joseph Cotten) REALLY a cold-blooded killer? C'mon, this is an Alfred Hitchcock movie--what do YOU think? But there are a lot of nice twists and turns along the way. Hitchcock flicks are ALWAYS worth a look (I MAY'VE seen this one when I was younger, as the final train trip seemed awfully familiar. Makes you think of poor Joe Maneely...)
|"Bunny Lake Is Missing" (1965)
The memorable title to this maligned Otto Preminger flick has been stuck in my head since witnessing the film's aggressive advertising campaign first hand as a kid (plus, there was a MAD parody I recall fondly). Mix that in with the audio commercials I hear every time I play "Zombie Heaven", the four CD set celebrating one of my favorite sixties British bands (who are in the movie), and how could I NOT finally sit down and watch it? Well, it's not as bad as expected, and the final twist was a bit of a surprise (though truth be known, I'm very easily surprised). The Zombies turn up playing on a pub TV (NOT doing their big hit, "She's Not There", which would've been extremely appropriate), and later, on a transistor radio. Check out the rare site of the legendary Noel Coward playing a lecherous landlord. In several early scenes, take note of some clumsy audio looping, akin to a bad Godzilla flick. See for yourself--some site called Crackle has the whole thing just waiting for you!
"The Terror of Tiny Town" (1938)
The infamous western populated entirely with a midget cast is only about an hour long, but, oh, what a long hour! Nothing funny here, to my way of thinking. Nothing very exciting, either. Billy Curtis--later one of the Mole Men, and more famously (i.e., actual dialog included ) as Mr. Zero on "The Adventures of Superman") plays the good guy in this traditionally formulated scenario. Worth seeing simply to say you saw it, but otherwise, no...
"Surf Party" (1964)
Pop star Bobby Vinton headlines this B&W beach flick, which is to the justly famous Frankie and Annette films what "Frankenstein's Daughter" was to "The Bride of Frankenstein". Jackie "What The World Needs Now" DeShannon is third billed as one of the girls. Vinton never acted on the big screen again, but it wasn't his thespianism that sinks the film, it's the dull storyline and mediocre tunes (no famous ones, trust me). A Fox Movie Channel feature, for completists only.
"The Son of Dr. Jekyll" (1951)
This isn't a bad film, but it IS a tremendous cheat. Yes, Louis Hayward does play the son of the infamous Dr. Jekyll (betcha didn't even know he was married, didja?...), but in the course of the movie, he only transforms into a Mr. Hyde guise once--and proceeds to immediately pass out on the floor!! He never gets the formula quite right again, with another of the film's main characters doing dastardly deeds and framing the innocent son instead. But I did get a kick out of seeing Rhys Williams turn up mid-way through as Michael the butler. Who's that, you may well ask?
|The very same year, Williams played one of
"The Evil Three", scaring the bejesus
out of Jimmy Olsen by creeping past his bedroom
window with a towel on his head!! Much scarier
than this movie, trust me...
"Souls For Sale" (1923)
This silent film is of minor interest because it captures the Hollywood of the day (the souls for sale are the actors and actresses searching for stardom, y'see), with much location footage as well as several notable cameos by the era's stars and directors. Brief shots of Charles Chaplin behind the camera (sans Little Tramp make-up), as well as fellow directors Erich Von Stroheim and King Vidor, make this a film buff's delight. There's also a studio commissary shot, showcasing nearly a dozen big stars, but fame being ephemeral, only the names Zasu Pitts, Chester Conklin, and well-known humanitarian, Jean Hersholt, still ring a bell with me. And daughter Julie would know NONE of 'em, guaranteed!! The main story of a young woman's rise to fame is serviceable, with a bombastic finish featuring a burning big top.
|"The Girl Can't Help It" (1956)
Frank Tashlin's comedy is the real deal!! A wonderful rock and roll time capsule, this is the movie that may well've been responsible for the formation of The Beatles!! So enamored with Eddie Cochran's performance of "Twenty Flight Rock" in the film, Paul McCartney learned every word of the ditty, which later impressed John Lennon mightily in what amounted to his audition into Lennon's Quarrymen band--and we all know what happened after THAT!! But beyond that historic footnote, there's a lot to like here--Tom Ewell, Edmund O'Brien, Henry Jones and, yes, Jayne Mansfield, are all quite amusing. Julie London's fantasy sequence singing "Cry Me River" is particularly noteworthy, and the rest of the music is handled with equal aplomb. Little Richard, Gene Vincent, The Treniers, and the rock and roll accordion (!) of Teddy Randazzo and the Three Chuckles--along with Mr. Cochran--are all on the top of their games!! (Look for Herb Vigran in a small role as a bartender.) How it took me this long to get around to this one I'll never know!! Thank you, Fox Movie Channel!
Psychoanalysts on the run--both from the police and themselves!! A young Gregory Peck, bereft of memory, teams with Ingrid Bergman to discover why parallel lines on a napkin freak him out so in this Hitchcock thriller. Watch for a young Rhonda Fleming in a short bit at the film's outset, as well as Norman "St. Elsewhere" Lloyd. A dream sequence provided by Salvador Dali makes this a another "don't miss" flick!! Plus, Mr. Waverly!!
|"Die, Monster, Die" (1965)
Way back in 1965, I bought a copy of the above issue of CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, with Freda Jackson's withered mug staring out at me. Now, over four full decades of having that gruesome image forever imprinted into my noggin, I FINALLY got to see the film that spawned it, "Die, Monster, Die". Not a great movie,. but nowhere near a bomb, either. Even at his advanced age, and confined to a wheelchair, Boris Karloff remains an arresting film presence (even if, whenever Boris clamps his jaw in a "why you!..." expression, he looks exactly like Jay Leno attempting the same emotion!!). Nick Adams, giant vegetables, and the not so lovely Ms. Jackson nicely round out this so-so H. P. Lovecraft adaptation.
"Monster A Go-Go" (1965)
Worst...movie...ever. Compared to this, Ed Wood's output is Oscar worthy, each and every one of them. This is the OTHER flick I almost didn't make it through, but in for a pound, in for 58 excruciating minutes. Turns out the background story was almost interesting enough to justify sitting though this debacle. Almost. Let me just quote Wikipedia wholesale:
The film had an unusual production history. Director Bill Rebane ran out of money while making the film. Herschell Gordon Lewis, who needed a second film to show with his own feature, Moonshine Mountain, bought the film, added a few extra scenes and some dialogue, and then released it, creating an odd, disjointed film with little continuity. Rebane had abandoned the film in 1961; Lewis did not finish the film until 1965 and so was unable to gather all of the original cast, resulting in almost half the characters disappearing midway through the film to be replaced by other characters who fill most of the same roles. One of the actors Lewis was able to get back had dramatically changed his look in the intervening years, necessitating his playing the brother of the original character.
And I love the fact that Henry Hite, the so-called monster, has only two films on his imdb listing--this one, and "New Faces of 1937"! Kind of a dry spell for "The World's Tallest Man" (as he was billed), eh? Glad I saw it; never want to see it again.
"The Wrong Man" (1956)
Ever wonder what an episode' of "Dragnet" directed by Alfred Hitchcock would've been like? Look no further--this true story of a wrongly arrested man (played effectively low-key by Henry Fonda in his only collaboration with Hitchcock) has all the nuts and bolts type details Jack Webb's series was famous for, only from the viewpoint of an unjustly accused man, making this one of the most chilling of the director's films. And then, in the final act, Fonda's wife (Vera Miles), suddenly crumbles under the strain, showing all too vividly the deliberating strain the situation causes on close family members. I really liked this movie, mostly due to its subdued--yet frightening--documentary like approach.
"The Red Mill" (1926)
Marion Davies (unfairly famed mostly for being William Randolph Hearst's mistress--thank you, "Citizen Kane"), plays the lead in a silent version of a Victor Herbert operetta directed by Fatty Arbuckle under an assumed name. She's actually quite appealing, and rather adept at physical comedy. I look forward to checking out some of her other movies that I recorded on the day TCM devoted entirely to her.
"For Heaven's Sake" (1926)
I've got two more full tapes of Harold Lloyd flicks to enjoy--this is merely the first one I managed to check out. There are two tremendous chase scenes--one with Harold aggravating an ever increasing assemblage of ruffians in order to lure them into a Mission, the other of a careening double decker bus--making the time spent well worth your while. It's on YouTube--go here to start with part one.
|"Out of the Past" (1947)
A truly wonderful slice of film noir directed by Jacques Tourneur starring Robert Mitchum, with a young Kirk Douglas as the bad guy. Snappy dialog, unexpected twists and turns a-plenty, the only thing that bothered me was the fact that the ending was a bit to reminiscent of "Thunder Road"--which of course, came 11 years latter, but I unfortunately saw two weeks earlier. Jane Greer makes for a memorable femme fatale, and Rhonda Fleming (her again!) is likewise in a smaller role. Of all the films listed above, this may well be my favorite--I'll let you know next time TCM runs it, promise!!
Well, that's all for now. But besides the Lloyd and Davies tapes, I have three James Coburn flicks from the sixties, a tape full of pre-code musicals, and three whole tapes of lunar oriented flicks broadcast on TCM to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the moon landing to get through! And "Star Trek" is FINALLY at the local cheapo theater, as is "Night At The Museum 2" (more Amy Adams!), so maybe it'd be better if, in the future, I don't let all these build up. Wish me luck with that...
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