Saturday, September 13, 2014

Silence Is Golden - And So Are The Great Laurel & Hardy

The Boys are back in town, twice within one week in the San Francisco Bay Area AND writer Steve Bailey of Movie Movie Blog Blog is hosting a blogathon in tribute to Stan & Babe on October 4.

Tomorrow afternoon at the Niles Museum, curator, comedy expert and Ray Hubbard Award winner Paul Mular presents one of the monthly "Sons Of The Desert" matinees devoted to the Hal Roach Studio.

Having moved its traditional winter event up to fall, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents Silent Autumn at The Castro Theatre - and the morning show is all Laurel & Hardy, ALL silent, no singing but some dancing. The epic "tit for tat" reciprocal destruction fests Two Tars (1928) and Big Business (1929) will rock the house, and as well as some lesser known titles that have been kept, as has been said in Private Snafu cartoons, "a military secret".

Now upon hearing the phrase "silence is golden", all Monsieur Blogmeister can think of is the 1960's English pop band The Tremeloes, but this figure of speech shall be a reality next Saturday, all day.

The Silent Autumn lineup, after Laurel & Hardy, shall feature Buster Keaton's historical action adventure epic The General (a film that always delights and amazes, no matter how many times one sees it), The Son Of The Sheik, introduced by Valentino expert Donna Hill, and Robert Weine's surreal "shot around the world", The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, newly digitally restored using the original camera negative.

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Tickets and festival passes are available at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website. We wish Steve the best on the blogathon. All this is very apropo, as the birthday of L&H nemesis Billy Gilbert was yesterday!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday, Hillary Brooke!

Today the Jack Buchanan top hat tip goes to actress Hillary Brooke (1914-1999), largely known as the statuesque, classy, charming and always ladylike foil for rough-and-tumble comedians Abbott & Costello.

Hillary Brooke was an actress who complemented those working with her in movies and TV adeptly, and by all accounts a nice person offscreen as well.

Her calming presence in movies, The Abbott & Costello Show and other programs (My Little Margie with Gale Storm and Charles Farrell) was invariably most welcome.

Ms. Brooke also did numerous TV ads. The commercials she appeared in and narrated promoting Kelvinator Foodarama (ONLY 47 inches!) no doubt had viewers ready to purchase one of these mammoth machines about 23 seconds into the pitch!

September 8 is also the birthday of comedy legends Peter Sellers and Sid Caesar. Today's post wraps with a few choice trailers and clips from their prolific careers.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Today And Tomorrow: The World War I In Classic Film Blogathon

Commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of World War I (chronicled expertly by Barbara Tuchman in The Guns Of August), Lea Stans of Silentology and Fritzi Kramer of Movies Silently are co-hosting a two day blogathon covering movies about what humanity hoped would be the war to end all wars.

Well, we know THAT didn't happen, but excellent writers have penned posts on wide-ranging WWI-related films, from The Big Parade to Pack Up Your Troubles, for the WW1 In Classic Film blogathon.

Look forward to reading the posts. Ms. Stans and Ms. Kramer are two of the young up-and-coming film historians to watch.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Classic Movie And Comedy Fans: Buy This!

Need laughs in a time with Robin Williams and now Joan Rivers gone? HALLELUJAH, there's some new Laurel & Hardy!

WHAT? New Laurel & Hardy? Be still our classic comedy loving hearts, the Blogmeister, indeed, kids you not. This set, Laurel & Hardy On Stage: Rare And Unreleased Performances, recorded during their 1940's public appearances in the U.S. and legendary 1947 European tour, IS A MAJOR FIND!

John Tefteller located and obtained the disc transcriptions from various Laurel & Hardy stage performances that transpired in the U.S.A. and overseas.

The Laurel & Hardy performances in England were a sensation and brought out the young comedy talent residing there, such as Norman Wisdom - all there to see The Boys work their magic in person.

Accompanying the two CDS is a large-format book by L&H experts Randy Skretvedt, author of Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind The Movies, and historian Peter Mikkelsen, authority on their Copenhagen tour.

This splendid book/CD combo, which can be ordered directly from the publisher, demonstrates, that L&H possessed an utter mastery of whimsical verbal humor that complements the visual comedy we know and love them for. To our unending latter-day delight, these performances demonstrate that Laurel & Hardy were capable of giving Abbott & Costello and Hope & Crosby a run for their money in the fast, facile wordplay department.

Just a few of the many goodies included in the set:
  • COMPLETE and differing versions of Stan & Babe performing the "Driver's License" sketch before an audience: first time from 1942 in the USA, the second performed in Copenhagen five years later.
  • An original script written by Stan Laurel
  • An in-depth examination of the team's appearances in Copenhagen
  • Accounts of the team's USO tours during WWII
  • New and previously unknown interviews with Stan & Babe

And, continuing with the topic of silver screen favorites, there's Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life, now out on paperback and Kindle.

Australian biographer Michelle Vogel has done something unheard of; believe it or not, she actually pays attention to her FILMS and gives Marilyn Monroe's legacy as actress and comedienne some long overdue r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

One Dubious Print Ad By RKO Radio Pictures, 1931

Frankly, we're just a tad skeptical about the RKO Short Subjects Department's claims here. While comedy geeks love Benny Rubin, for cryin' out loud, he's the top of the bill and W.C. Fields is the bottom! Well, both were headlining RKO Radio Pictures 2-reelers at the time.

Even more amazing is the bit about kids "clamoring for" Larry Darmour Productions' cheesy, low-budget Mickey McGuire comedies - yes, even in a hurting, battered, Great Depression and entertainment-starved America. We do, however, at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, admit to liking Billy Barty's performance in the following film as the conductor TONS.

By all accounts Billy Barty was a very good musician (started his career touring vaudeville in his family's band) who offscreen would rock the drum kit like his heroes from the Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman big bands. Billy soon left these comedies to contribute some amazing bits to Busby Berkeley's already hallucinogenic production numbers in WB musicals.

Meanwhile, the Mickey McGuire series moved from RKO to Columbia distribution for its last season in 1933-1934. Comedy shorts starring Clark & McCullough, Edgar Kennedy, Harry Sweet and Grady Sutton continued being produced by RKO.

Notably, at the bottom of this ad, most certainly bringing up the rear, is a reference to RKO's Toby The Pup cartoons, produced by Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus and Art Davis at the Charles Mintz Studio.

That means we simply must close this post with two, not three, no make that FOUR animated adventures starring the (not exactly) beloved Toby. The cartoons never got distributed to U.S. television and were largely unseen for several decades.

For the longest time, only one entry from the Toby The Pup series, The Museum, was available for viewing.

Since then, animation historians (Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films and prolific chronicler of comic art David Gerstein in particular) have found several more Toby cartoons. In this writer's cartoon-crazed opinion, they equal or surpass the wacky Fleischer Studio hijinx from the same period and also rival the contemporaneous Disney cartoons for animation technique, early 1930's "rubber hose" style.

Friday, August 29, 2014

This Labor Day Weekend: Classic Movie Events In Hollywood And Brooklyn

This weekend in Hollywood, it's time for the Cinecon convention.

This is the 50th of these one-of-a-kind festivals and its m.o. is "films so rare even the most dyed-in-the-wool professional historians have never seen them", presented on the big screen in glorious 35mm.

At this year's Cinecon, the Career Achievement Honoree will go to the kid who stole the hearts of a gazillion moviegoers in MGM films, the winsome Margaret O'Brien, who will be there in person and charm the audience yet again in the Q&A following a screening of Vincente Minnelli's iconic Meet Me In St. Louis.

Monsieur Blogmeister attended several of the five day celluloid extravaganzas way back in the 1980's and had the immense pleasure of meeting many responsible for sublime and happy moments on the silver screen, from Hal Roach Studio luminaries Sunshine Sammy Morrison and Anita Garvin to legendary animators Bob Clampett and Hugh Harman. They weren't "celebs", but folks there to have a good time, socialize and meet others who love movies.

Alas, it has been many moons since Mr. Blogmeister has been to a Cinecon, but knows plenty of friends and colleagues who will be there, no doubt hitting the local restaurants and watering holes with gusto between the rare movies and having a lovely Labor Day Weekend.

While disappointed to miss screenings of the howlingly funny 1929 Hal Roach Studio 2-reeler Snappy Sneezer and the incomparable Jack Benny in Buck Benny Rides Again, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog wish the producers, curators and volunteers presenting this fest all the best. For more info, check out the Cinecon website.

Across the country, in Brooklyn, home to many jazz musicians, comedians and filmmakers (as well as the birthplace of Bugs Bunny), animation historian and film collector Tom Stathes from Cartoons On Film is curating/presenting a fine program of classic cartoon coolness this Saturday evening.

It's an outdoor show at in the backyard of Williamsburg's City Reliquary museum on 370 Metropolitan Avenue - and promises to be lots of fun. Even if one is many miles away from Williamsburg and cannot attend the show, join the official Facebook group for the Tom Stathes Cartoon Carnival

This weekend, the vintage movie flame - well, hopefully none of the archival nitrate prints that shall be shown - burns brightly on both coasts!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Happy 105th Birthday, Lester Willis Young (1909-1959)

Today is the birthday of arguably the greatest instrumentalist to ever play jazz, Count Basie's go-to guy, saxophonist and clarinetist Lester Young, born on August 27, 1909.

Some music aficionados might argue that the "greatest" mantle would go to Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Art Tatum or possibly any number of luminaries quite a bit younger than Pres (Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Miles Davis).

Others would accurately say, yeah - ALL of them are the greatest and don't forget Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Christian, Teddy Wilson and Earl "Fatha" Hines while you're at it!

For this correspondent and music lover, nobody then or now comes close to the sweet sound of Lester Young a.k.a. "Pres".

Many attempted to imitate his musicality and out-of-the-box approach to life, but nobody succeeded. There's only one original.

Here's Pres and several bands jam-packed with virtuosos, sounding great.

While Lester's music provided some measure of comfort for millions around the world, during his lifetime and 55 years after his death, he suffered a great deal in his life. One hopes that Mr. Young found the peace and serenity which eluded him during his time here.