Saturday, April 30, 2016

Lost And Orphaned Films We'd Love To See!




As this blogger wishes he could be reveling with throngs of classic movie buffs, including friends and colleagues he does not see often, at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival, currently holding forth at Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, the topic shall become orphaned, lost and otherwise out of circulation films: ones so rare not even Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz have seen them.



Your Correspondent will not go into ALL the movies which have been lost to time, vault fires and nitrate decomposition, as this would both result in a 957,081 word piece and the author possibly not living to finish the blog post. Tod Browning's chiller London After Midnight, starring Lon Chaney, Sr., appears to be atop the Holy Grail list. Many more famous rare films hold prominent spots on the classic movie buff's bucket list.

For the usual gang of idiots at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, it's no contest - the 1933 Warner Brothers comedy Convention City is on top of the list! While the film has not been seen anywhere that we know of since the 1940's, the script and 200 stills from the rowdy tale of drunken debauchery at a Honeywell Rubber Company sales convention do exist; a 1994 Film Forum 2 series curated by Bruce Goldstein included a reading of the screenplay.

We don't know who Edna Arjspray is, but she (or he) has done an exceedingly creative job of putting together a trailer on YouTube that approximates what the opening titles of Convention City might look like. Yes, Ms. Arjspray is clearly a big fan of 1931-1933 First National movies!



To quote the Wikipedia entry on Convention City:

Due to its racy content, Convention City was banned after the Motion Picture Production Code (18+) was enacted in 1934. Prints were subsequently ordered to be destroyed by studio head Jack L. Warner. It was particularly responsible for the implementation of The Hayes Code (a code that censored sex and violence in films) in Hollywood and for its controversy.

During its production, Jack Warner urged costume designer, Hal Wallis, many times to tone down the costumes in the film. Fearing the film's artistic vision would be compromised, Wallis refused to make the costumes more family friendly. Warner also ordered for a few lines to be cut from the film, of which only a few were.

When the film opened, it was heavily censored or downright banned, despite its critical acclaim. Many theaters destroyed their copies of the film, thinking it promoted corrupt morals and anti-Christian messages.

Warner Bros reportedly "junked" all remaining copies of the film in 1948. A movie theater in Spain continued to show the film as late as 1942, and reportedly held onto its copy. This copy, though, has yet to be found.

Over 200 production stills as well as the script survive. No copies of the film have surfaced after its apparent "junk"-ing.




With the understanding that the Production Code actually was in place at this time, but not enforced until July 1934, here are aa few additional notes on Convention City from the Lost Film Wikia

In the 1990s, it became the only film whose stock footage has survived longer than the actual film itself. Stock footage of various Atlantic City establishing shots were discovered in a studio vault



The cast is a veritable Who's Who of Warner Brothers films, although we are disappointed director Archie Mayo did not find roles in Convention City for wisecracking Glenda Farrell and All-Star character actress Aline MacMahon. One assumes they were busy shooting films with Roy Del Ruth or Wild Bill Wellmann elsewhere on the Warner Bros. lot at that time. It is of interest that Convention City was singled out for racy content at a time in which some pretty darn scandalous and provocative pre-Code films - Baby Face, The Story Of Temple Drake - were also released.



Wheeler & Woolsey in So This Is Africa, original cut



And speaking of pre-Code films, this blogger loves the unrelenting double entendre humor of RKO Radio Pictures' popular comedy team of Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey a.k.a. Bert n' Bob. They are also the comics Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby were writing hilarious musical comedy gold for when they weren't doing this for The Marx Brothers.




So This Is Africa, shot between October 17 and November 23, 1932, is not a lost film, as a version of it that was released to theaters exists (35mm and 16mm prints seem to vary a bit in running time), but the original cut, submitted for a March 1933 release date, does not exist. More than 20 minutes of edits took place between the original cut and the released version. Said original cut, deemed too randy to release, appears to not exist in any form. In that respect, this randy romp in which Bert & Bob go to Africa to find a race of not shy and sexually insatiable Amazonian women has something in common with the much more famous truncated films Greed and The Magnificent Ambersons.



As far as we know, nobody snuck out a 35mm print or neg of this original cut of the quintessential Wheeler & Woolsey comedy, before the litany of edits that were made for it to be released theatrically on April 22, 1933. Too bad! That said, while the released film does not survive in all its pre-Code glory, it's still pretty darn hilarious and among the penultimate expressions of the comedy team's good-natured lechery.



Photographer, classic movie expert and writer Louis Despres discusses the severe editing of this film at length in So This Is Africa" (1933) - Gentlemen, sharpen your scissors! - easily one of this writer's all-time favorite posts from any classic movie blog.



We would like to think pristine 35mm materials on the original version survive in unmarked reel cans deep in the Columbia Pictures vaults or in an archive somewhere in the world.



It's A Wise Child, starring Marion Davies



Another famed pre-Code film, the Marion Davies vehicle It's A Wise Child, exists in a 35mm nitrate print at UCLA, but, due to rights issues, has been entirely out of circulation for decades. Asked the expert, Davies biographer and historian Lara Gabrielle about this and learned that it still can't be shown publicly because, while the rights still technically belong to the heirs of the fellow who wrote the play the screenplay was adapted from. . . there are no heirs.



It's A Wise Child was adapted from a play by Laurence E. Johnson, who died in 1933. Johnson's estate, however, still owns the rights to the movie. This, rather than risque content would appear to be why it was not among the films not chosen when the Metro-Goldwyn Mayer package of features was released to television. The account from one person who was seen UCLA's 35mm print, Nick Langdon of the Marion Davies tribute website", it is among her very best films. Maybe this excellent Davies comedy will eventually be extricated from the legal entanglements and rights Twilight Zone and made available to the classic film loving public. Then again, maybe not.



Heart Trouble, directed by and starring Harry Langdon



More controversial that Hats Off! but also much sought out by comedy fans and silent film buffs would be, Heart Trouble, the second of the three First National features directed by and starring that most original and fearless of movie comedians, Harry Langdon. On the strength of a series of popular short comedies produced by Mack Sennett and the success of his first three First National feature films, Langdon became a major star and rival to Chaplin for top box-office attraction in screen comedy. That ended when Harry's fourth, fifth and sixth First National features, Three's A Crowd, Heart Trouble and The Chaser, were box office bombs.



Little Elf: A Celebration Of Harry Langdon by Michael Hayde and Chuck Harter, delves into the original reviews and descriptions of the three Langdon-directed features in depth. Even from the existing descriptions of Heart Trouble, it appears to be at the very least an interesting and enjoyable vehicle for this brilliant, unorthodox comedian. The thought that Langdon's Heart Trouble, followed by The Chaser, may have been a tad too unorthodox for 1928 audiences makes them even more compelling and only makes this latter-day silent comedy buff want to see them all the more. In addition to Heart Trouble, missing pieces from the Langdon filmography include five lost 2-reel short subjects Harry and lifelong foil (as well as offscreen buddy) Vernon Dent co-starred in for Paramount Pictures in 1933-1934.



4 Devils



F.W. Murnau's legendary tale of intrigue between circus acrobats may be tied with London After Midnight as the most sought-after of all lost films. 4 Devils was caught in that transition between silents and talkies. It had been completed as a silent and premiered 1n October 3, 1928, but was also re-tooled with sound sequences and released as a "part-talkie" on June 10, 1929. Neither silent nor sound versions exist. All the 35mm materials on 4 Devils very likely went up in smoke in the infamous Little Ferry, New Jersey vault fire on July 9, 1937.

From the existing materials and scripts, filmmmaker Janet Bergstrom created the following reconstruction of Murnau's epic, Murnau's 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film.



This documentary plus an in-depth book about 4 Devils can also be found on the outstanding Murnau, Borzage & Fox DVD box set.



Animated Cartoons



With the understanding that there are hundreds of missing cartoons from the silent era, this blogger, who actually co-wrote a piece about the Charles Mintz studio's sometimes loved but mostly loathed Scrappy cartoons many moons ago, will limit this to the sound era. Of the Mintz and Screen Gems output, this animation buff has been literally wanting to see the following cartoons, just two of several that are still missing, for decades. Hopefully, deep in the dark recesses of the Columbia vaults, resting in misplaced and unmarked reel cans, the following Columbia Color Rhapsody cartoons will be found - maybe next to that original cut of So This Is Africa.


Neighbors (1935)



Neighbors remains a particularly curious case: a cartoon that brings up a question of whether it is or isn't a lost film. The writer recalls hearing somewhere - and forgets where - that it exists on 35mm in the Columbia vaults, but not even animation experts have seen it. Columbia Pictures did not select it (or for that matter several topical World War II titles) for the package of cartoons that was released to television in the 1950's.



A bit of background. . . The Charles Mintz Studio crew that made this cartoon, co-led by ace ex-Fleischer animators Sid Marcus and Art Davis, certainly were prolific, but produced quite a mixed bag in over a decade making entries for the Scrappy, Color Rhapsodies, Fables and Phantasies series for Columbia release.



Startlingly original and brilliant cartoons or ingenious sequences can be alongside astonishingly bad cartoons or sequences. Sometimes everything goes haywire in the middle of the cartoon! It could be argued that their best cartoons are very disturbing - and that the worst ones are very disturbing as well.

In this animation buff's opinion, it's not the weird cartoons, but the bland ones that attempt to ape the Disney Silly Symphonies that fail. On the plus side, Art Davis' consistently superb and expressive character animation is a constant.



Original write-ups in the trade press (Motion Picture Herald and other publications) of Neighbors indicate that this is a prime example of the former - and it turns out that Neighbors is the first of two Color Rhapsody cartoons the Marcus and Davis crew produced about an arms race between cartoon animals!

The seldom seen cartoon is among those rare animated excursions into social commentary, in this case current events in Europe, but not the sole example along these lines produced by the Mintz Studio; Ben Harrison & Manny Gould's crew produced the Great Depression pieces Lambs Will Gambol and Prosperity Blues, as well as foreign affairs satires The Disarmament Conference and The Peace Conference.



Yes, one imagines Sid Marcus at his drawing board loathing the very idea of making heartwarming entertainment for a kiddie audience with every fiber of his being - and this cartoon is definitely not heartwarming entertainment for a kiddie audience. In his Of Mice & Magic book, Leonard Maltin mentions one of the trade paper reviews of this cartoon, which is about a vulture arms dealer who starts and escalates a war between roosters.

That's a good thing, throughout the cartoon biz, attempts to emulate Disney in general did not go at all well. The staff at the Mintz Studio may have been the worst of all - yes, even worse, if such a thing can be imagined, than Fleischer's Color Classics, 1934-1935 Merrie Melodies and certain unbearably treacly Happy Harmonies produced by Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising for MGM - at making "cute cartoons". The Color Rhapsody series in particularly include jarring combinations of cuteness and Marcus' signature "sick humor" (A Boy & His Dog, Air Hostess): entertainingly odd cartoons which provoke a "what where they thinking?" response.

Best known of the series and (like most of the Color Rhapsodies) NOT a lost film, is The Little Match Girl, a brilliantly conceived and executed retelling of the tragic tearjerking story - the main character freezes to death in the snow at the end - but still an unsettling, schizoid blend.



The dream sequence features much rosy-cheeked cherubic cuteness but is strictly a pure fantasy escape from a harsh situation, harsher urban setting and unflinching, at times grotesque human caricatures (which both the Marcus & Davis crew at Mintz and Fleischer Studio artists were adept at drawing). That said, back in 1981, this blogger spoke ever so briefly on the phone to Art Davis, who regarded this cartoon very highly, with great admiration for its genuine dramatic impact.


He Can't Make It Stick (1943)



By all accounts, the last half of this cartoon exists on 35mm, but it was not (as a WW2 themed piece) in the TV package or among those Columbia Pictures selected to run on "The Ruff And Reddy Show". Writer Linda Glover penned an excellent post about He Can't Make It Stick, complete with frame grabs, as part of an 2007 series, Lost Columbia Cartoons, posted on her (unfortunately) now long dormant That's A Load Of Cartoons blog.

He Can't Make It Stick with a storyboard by comics legend Milt Gross, is a WW2 cartoon that stars Hitler as a paperhanger who quite literally can't make the Nazi wallpaper/ideology stick. Possibly the ONLY of the many topical WW2 era cartoons, including the Private Snafu and Hook series produced for The Army Navy Screen Magazine, this blogger has not seen, it one was of a fascinating series of 1942-1943 Screen Gems cartoons co-directed by John Hubley (yes, that John Hubley, onetime Disney layout ace who became the key figure in the success of UPA) and Paul Sommer, the future story director of Yogi Bear, Flintstones, Jetsons, Top Cat, Space Ghost, etc. While there are some utter misfires among the Screen Gems cartoons Sommer & Hubley co-directed, unlike those Columbias which try unsuccessfully to emulate Disney, they are not bland and dull.



In the course of completing this post, must admit to having forgotten all about a third lost cartoon from the sound era, Spree For All, the Famous Studios Noveltoon starring Billy DeBeck's comic strip character Snuffy Smith. Spree For All was made in 1946 and not to be confused with the made-for-TV cartoons produced in the 1960's by King Features featuring Billy DeBeck's comic strip character.



Jerry Beck penned an excellent article about the inexplicable missing Spree For All on his Cartoon Research website. Of course, any further details on this lost cartoon from historians Steve Stanchfield, Mark Kausler, Greg Ford and the author I hear is working on a book about the New York animation studios, Thad Komorowski, would be most welcome.


Laurel & Hardy

Atop the list for silent comedy fans would be the 1927 Laurel & Hardy 2-reeler Hats Off!




Here is a reconstruction of Hats Off.


Hal Yates remade the L&H short in the 1940's at RKO as It's Your Move and as much as we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog adore Edgar Kennedy, it could not help but be a funnier film with Stan n' Babe as stars and the hilarious Anita Garvin in the supporting cast.



Short Subject Series

The lost films of Charley Chase



Pretty straightforward: this list would include all the missing comedies Charley starred in for Hal Roach, mostly silents but including some early talkies as well. The list could be expanded to include the numerous missing films Charley directed and wrote for other comedians.


The lost films of Lloyd Hamilton



Lloyd V. Hamilton, the "checkered cap comic" and key influence upon Jackie Gleason, headlines this very blog. A majority of the 2-reelers he starred in for Educational and Universal don't exist. Like Oliver Hardy and Harry Langdon, Hamilton had an absolutely uncanny knack for merging the broadest of slapstick with components of delicacy and subtlety. Quite a few of Ham's Educational short subjects, both in silents and talkies, were directed and written by Roscoe Arbuckle a.k.a. William Goodrich, another director-star adept at blending all-out knockabout comedy with more sophisticated humor.



The films of Mr. & Mrs. Carter DeHaven



After the tragic and premature passings of Mr. And Mrs. Sidney Drew, another silver screen couple would carry their tradition of devastatingly funny, yet sophisticated marital farces in the silent era: Carter DeHaven and his wife, Flora, who made their name in showbiz first as dancers.



Carter DeHaven and his wife Flora Parker DeHaven starred in very popular marital farces.



Directors of the Mr. & Mrs. Carter DeHaven series included Charley Chase and the ubiquitous William A. Seiter.



While Leo McCarey never mentioned the Drews or the DeHavens specifically as an influence, his key collaborator in the 1920's was none other than Mr. Chase, so it's likely the situational humor that drove the DeHaven comedies influenced his Hal Roach films. In silver screen comedy history, a line could thus be drawn from the early comedy films of Max Linder to the popular marital comedies starring John Bunny and Flora Finch (a.k.a. Bunnyfinches) to the Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew series to the DeHaven marital farces to Chase's sophisticated yet outrageous "comedy of embarrassment" and then to McCarey's later work directing such iconic features as The Awful Truth.

In closing, speaking of bucket lists, this writer sincerely hopes either these films turn up or their rights issues get resolved before he kicks the bucket, as Jimmy Durante did at the beginning of It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World!


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Brush Up Your Shakespeare



Earlier this week, the world lost two titans from the world of music, bandleader-songwriter-entertainer-recording producer and multi-instrumentalist Prince and prolific guitar slinger Lonnie Mack - actually in the same day. The world lost this literary titan 400 years ago today: William Shakespeare, a.k.a. The Immortal Bard. All of the above, nothing if not inspired, left an amazing body of work behind which we and future generations can enjoy and learn from - as have too many iconic artists who have passed thus far in 2016.



The blend of William Shakespeare plus 20th century pop culture gets this writer thinking of the 1935 film of A Midsummer Night's Dream, produced by Warner Brothers, directed by William Dieterle and featuring an all-star cast.



There are quite a few very enjoyable movies based on Shakespeare. Among them, this correspondent will happily watch any film starring Sir Ian McKellen.



Another actor who this writer loves to hear perform pretty much any Shakespeare play is Sir Patrick Stewart. Just imagine what a thrill it would have been to attend the following 1973 performance of Julius Caesar; I sincerely hope some video of it exists somewhere. The beauty of the language and the creativity of Stewart's acting are stunning to behold.



And then there's Olivier. . .





And then there's Orson Welles and Peter O' Toole.



The Orson Welles screen adaptations of Macbeth and Othello transport the viewer to another world - a netherworld, actually, almost as dark as Orson's gritty noir thriller A Touch Of Evil.



One of the blogmeister's all-time favorite movies is Welles' masterpiece Chimes At Midnight, starring Orson as Falstaff and adapting elements from various plays the rotund rapscallion had roles in, including Henry IV (parts 1 and 2), Henry V and The Merry Wives Of Winsor. On the big screen, this is quite an epic and a remarkable piece of work by all involved.



Essentially, today's post is also this blogger's excuse to reference a certain favorite song, Brush Up Your Shakespeare, from both a favorite Broadway show and MGM musical, Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.





No matter what is going on in Your Correspondent's life, he is happy to drop everything to watch Kiss Me Kate yet again!


Monday, April 18, 2016

Talkin' Baseball With Alfred Hitchcock, The Old Philosopher and James Earl Jones


Having watched the Jackie Robinson documentary, as well as an epic Giants-Dodgers series from Chavez Ravine - and before yet another viewing of Joe E. Brown in Alibi Ike - this three-post thematic arc concludes with monologues about the old ballgame. The least likely will be the first - celebrated arbiter of balls and strikes Sir Alfred Hitchcock. And, for the record, this baseball fan agrees with Hitch and is glad players can no longer be "spiked" as they slide into second base.



It is somewhat amazing that we have, in over 900 posts, not devoted one yet to the very funny Eddie Lawrence a.k.a. The Old Philosopher. Here's his take on baseball, which this writer first stumbled upon when watching the animated version of Abner The Baseball on The New Casper Cartoon Show (a few years before discovering Eddie Lawrence's recordings).



Among numerous dramatic readings of Casey And The Bat by Ernest Thayer, it's tough to top James Earl Jones. He and Sir Patrick Stewart could recite a shopping list and enthrall the listener.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

And This Blog Loves Baseball Movies



Thinking about Jackie Robinson and watching the documentary about his life that aired on PBS last week brings to mind baseball movies, as well as the question of why Your Correspondent does not have a Blu-ray of Pride Of The Yankees.



There are a zillion baseball flicks, many of which this classic movie obsessed MLB geek has not seen, listed in detail on the Boston Baseball website. Today's post will not get into latter-day baseball movies, even some pretty darn good ones with a 20th century pedigree - although it's a good bet I will be watching the following films again before the MLB season ends.







Other writers, especially the late Roger Ebert, have covered this territory quite well. That said, what Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog will get into, as usual, is curios, cartoons, comedies, short subjects and, as inevitably as death and taxes, trailers.



And, of course, commercials.



While the greatest film about the national pastime ever made, hands-down, is Baseball Bugs, just one among several devastatingly funny cartoons Isadore "Friz" Freleng and his crew at Warner Brothers produced that year, the very first baseball movie this writer ever saw was the following Fleischer Studios cartoon, The Twisker Pitcher. This confirms that Popeye The Sailor had a helluva screwball and would easily command 30+ million buckaroos a year in 2016!



Neither offering that wonderful gritty New York City factor seen to great advantage in 1930's Fleischer cartoons nor quite as hilarious as Baseball Bugs but still damn funny, is Tex Avery's twisted take on "play ball", Batty Baseball.



It's a good bet Tex saw Goofy in How To Play Baseball and concluded that he could top it.



When the topic of baseball comes up, the first person from the world of entertainment one thinks of is Buster Keaton.



Knowing Buster's love of the game, it seems rather amazing that Buster did not devote an entire feature film to baseball. Hollywood legend has it that the first question in a job interview with Buster Keaton Productions was "do you play baseball?" One imagines an incredible action-packed comedy feature co-starring Buster with his mentor Roscoe Arbuckle, Roscoe's ever-acrobatic and quadruple-jointed nephew, Al St. John, and the ever-menacing Big Joe Roberts as the umpire.



That said, this entry from Buster's mid-1930's series of Educational Pictures comedy shorts, One Run Elmer, threadbare budget notwithstanding, has its charms. It's impossible for Keaton to be anything but fascinating onscreen.



Another baseball loving movie comedian was Joe E. Brown.



Joe both worked as a broadcaster for the New York Yankees and starred in two immensely entertaining baseball comedies, Elmer The Great and Alibi Ike.







Another beloved comedian was Shemp Howard, who, between stints as one of The Three Stooges, may well have been the hardest working man in showbiz at Vitaphone. Here's the opening from Dizzy and Daffy, a Vitaphone 2-reeler intended to spotlight St. Louis Cardinal stars and "Gas House Gang" luminaries Jerome and Paul Dean. Although Shemp shares the film with both the MLB stars and stuttering comic Roscoe Ates (a funny guy but no Mel Blanc), he is a riot, as usual, as a nearsighted pitcher.



When it came to comedy, as a Stooge or a supporting player with the likes of W.C. Fields, Olsen & Johnson and Abbott & Costello, Shemp Howard unquestionably had The Right Stuff. Another superb comedian with The Right Stuff was Ernie Kovacs, who shall prepare yours truly for Giants vs. Dodgers later tonight and be our intimidating flame-throwing "closer" for today's post. Play Ball!

Friday, April 15, 2016

April 15 Is Jackie Robinson Day!



Every April 15, after waking up to George Harrison singing Taxman, this writer stops whatever he's doing to remember Jackie Robinson and reflect on his life and legacy. All MLB players will wear #42 to honor him today. Next year on April 15 will be the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson making his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.



Here are some insightful interviews. Leading off: Jackie's widow, Rachel Robinson, followed by Jackie's contemporary and key mentor to Wilie Mays, the great Monte Irvin, the manager and power-hitting first baseman of the Kansas City Monarchs (with whom Jackie played after he lettered in four sports at UCLA), John Jordan "Buck" O' Neil and, like Jackie, a Hall Of Famer and outstanding multi-position player, Ernie Banks (a.k.a. Mr. Cub).








This blogger enjoyed the following film about Jackie Robinson a great deal and will be watching the new Ken Burns/Florentine Films documentary tomorrow evening.



Around the world, we tip our caps with the utmost respect to the great Jackie Robinson - who, among numerous off-field accomplishments, participated in the March On Washington - as well as all those who continue the fight for civil rights. Here's to you, #42 - and to Rachel Robinson, too!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

This Kickstarter Fundraiser's For Marion - Davies, That Is



Today's tips of the Raymond Griffith top hat go to actress, comedienne and philanthropist Marion Davies and to a Kickstarter Fundraiser that covers all production costs for a DVD release of the epic 1922 feature film by Cosmopolitan Pictures that made her name as a major star, When Knighthood Was In Flower.



Onscreen, the very funny, talented and unfairly maligned Marion Davies is best known for her performances in such classic late period silents as The Red Mill, The Patsy and Show People.



Miss Davies followed these by bringing her considerable comedy chops and joie de vivre into talkies in such 1930's films as It's A Wise Child and Blondie Of The Follies.



Offscreen, she is known for her life as the mistress of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst and, at San Simeon, the hostess with the mostest, but should be remembered for her many key contributions to good causes.



While also big fans of brilliant and prolific screenwriter Frances Marion, piano virtuoso Marian McPartland, Marian The Librarian from The Music Man and charming Hal Roach Studios comedienne Marion "Peanuts" Byron, we are nonetheless happy to call attention to this Marion Davies' breakthrough film comes to home video fundraiser.







While earlier Marion Davies films and the aforementioned comedies she made with director King Vidor have long since had an official DVD release, When Knighthood Was In Flower, among the biggest box-office hits of 1922, has heretofore been unavailable on DVD.



To quote the Kickstarter Fundraiser page:

"The release will be made using a new transfer off the sole surviving 35mm nitrate print, with a brand new theatre organ score buy Ben Model. The 2K digital scan will be made for the project by video lab at the Library of Congress, the archive where the print is stored and has been preserved. The 2K digital scan will be made for the project by video lab at the Library of Congress, the archive where the print is stored and has been preserved.

Based on my current performance schedule for April-August and the time it takes for scoring and authoring, I expect to be able to have the DVD/BR finished and available by the end of September 2016. I already have the logistics for the film transfers lined up and ready to go with the Library of Congress."




Due to her legend with Mr. Hearst, in this scribe's opinion, Marion's movie career has gotten short shrift, although that has begun to change with recognition at such silent film festivals from San Francisco to Pordenone, especially when The Patsy rocked a capacity crowd at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.





We are happy and honored to pay tribute to Marion Davies and shall close today's post with clips from a few years after When Knighthood Was In Flower, in talkies. She could be quite the musical comedy gal.



Marion shares the spotlight with none other than Bing Crosby in the following clip from Going Hollywood.



Three cheers for Marion Davies and three more for this fundraiser, which ends on Wednesday, April 13.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Dark Horse (1932): Programmers, Patsies & Politics

"He's the dumbest human being I ever saw. Every time he opens his mouth he subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge." Warren William as campaign manager Hal S. Blake, The Dark Horse.



This is Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog's contribution to the 2016 Bette Davis Blogathon, hosted by Crystal of In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood. Happy to celebrate Miss Davis' 108th birthday!



It seems timely enough in 2016 to review the 1932 election year opus The Dark Horse, just one of many fast and furious programmers from Warner Brothers (dear readers, if you have not seen this movie, spoilers abound).



While historically important due to Miss Davis' way too small but important role, as well as a story reputedly penned quickly by Darryl F. Zanuck (using the nom de plume Melville Crossman), The Dark Horse is mostly a very goofy comedy that uses corrupt machine politics as a backdrop.



Its basic premise: to break a tie in a gubernatorial race, Zachary Hicks of Menifee County, a nincompoop of nincompoops, has been chosen randomly by the progressive party to run as a "dark horse" candidate.



The party's brilliant secretary, Kay Russell, enlists her beau, reckless but persuasive political operative Hal Samson Blake, to helm the Hicks campaign and convince gullible state voters to embrace the semi-literate knucklehead as a "man of the people."



Prefacing this review: a few notes on Bette Davis' earliest appearances in movies.



Frankly, seeing Miss Davis neither drive the storyline to uncharted territory nor dominate the screen in her early Universal and Warner Brothers films really takes some getting used to.



Watching Bette play a meek mousey milquetoast sort in her silver screen debut in The Bad Sister, a 1931 Universal Pictures vehicle for starlet Sidney Fox, makes the latter-day viewer do a double take worthy of Jimmie Finlayson in a Laurel & Hardy 2-reeler. Even odder is seeing a very early appearance by Humphrey Bogart, still in his "anyone for tennis" stage, in the same potboiler.



Bette does her best to inject blazing white hot insane intensity into these parts - that is, when given any opportunity whatsoever to do so. Mostly in 1931-1932, she's the bonus baby riding the bench, but Bette periodically gets in there and slams some scorching line drives sure to decapitate a pitcher who fails to duck. She more than holds her own with such co-stars as the acclaimed yet florid British stage actor George Arliss and classy pre-code grande dame Ruth Chatterton.





Soon to utter the star-making line in Cabin In The Cotton, "ah'd love to kiss ya, but ah just washed mah hair," Miss Davis plays a pivotal but (yet again) clearly supporting role in The Dark Horse. As Kay Russell, the ambitious secretary of the Progressive Party and smart as a whip paramour of a Whiz Kid Campaign Manager played by Warren William (who THINKS he's the smart one. . . ha ha ha, think again, pal), Bette doesn't get all that much to do. It's Warren William's movie.



As fun as William's "Lee Tracy meets John Barrymore" turn as the egocentric campaign manager who got married while on an extended drunken bender is, inevitably, one wants more scenes featuring Bette Davis. It's obvious from the moment Bette makes her entrance 9:48 into the movie that she is no ordinary talent or background player.



Although one gets the impression that Bette is holding back at all times, there are individual moments in which she commands the screen.



Here's a frame grab from the scene in which she confronts Whiz Kid Campaign Manager's ex-wife, to whom he perpetually owes alimony. The political operative asked his loyal secretary/lover for a substantial amount of dough-re-me to pay the litigious ex and didn't say why. Bad idea.



Indeed, even though Bette has her moments but not much to work with, this is a First National picture and that means stellar contributions from the supporting cast: Warren William as Hal S. Blake, sleazy snake oil salesman/campaign manager, Frank McHugh (soon to fund character actor glory in Jimmy Cagney flicks) as his assistant, Vivienne Osborne as Blake's even sleazier ex-wife and Berton Churchill as the sleazier still conservative party gubernatorial candidate.



The Dark Horse, is enjoyable largely due to the enthusiasm and good humor of all of the above. This correspondent is less enthusiastic about Guy Kibbee in the role of dumb doofus Zachary Hicks.



While nobody loves to see Guy Kibbee chasing showgirls around in Busby Berkeley musicals more than the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, his character here seems a bit TOO much of an imbecile. There was a film made four decades later starring Robert Redford as The Candidate and a proper alternative title for The Dark Horse would have been The Dumb, Very Dumb, No Make That Very Very Dumb Candidate. How dumb is he? Dumber than Elmer Fudd. Dumber than Tim Conway's Ensign Parker in McHale's Navy. Dumber than the lead characters in Dumb & Dumber. Dumber than a pomeranian this blogger recalls who barked at ceramic rabbits.

The not-quite-believable Zachary Hicks character illustrates what doesn't quite work about this movie, entertaining as it is. One just doesn't buy major elements in the storyline, key among them the romance between Kay Russell and Hal S. Blake. Seems more like a short-term affair than anything remotely resembling a great love.



In the Depression era sub-genre of political movies, this would, along with The Phantom President, a musical starring George M. Cohan, be among the least serious of the bunch. Both are substantially less provocative than The Cats-Paw, directed by Sam Taylor and starring Harold Lloyd and Una Merkel, and the scariest (and most fascinating) one, the still shocking and fascism-friendly Gabriel Over The White House, directed by Gregory LaCava.

Later in the decade, this trend would culminate in the first of Preston Sturges' outstanding Paramount films, The Great McGinty, as well as several more political and populist collaborations between director Frank Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin: Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Meet John Doe. Key theme: big city politicos and big business blowhards find someone they think is a sap to run for office or otherwise be their unwitting front man so that they can use him for their own nefarious purposes.

The Dark Horse, which can be seen in its entirety here, concludes with a non-happy ending A.K.A. a denouement that is only happy strictly on Level One. A blithering idiot has been elected governor of a state. Kay Russell, who knows better, lets the pathologically insincere Hal essentially blackmail her into agreeing to his proposal of marriage, then follow him to Reno and his next campaign - yes, totally selling out her modern gal principles and integrity in the process. This will be a happy marriage. . . well, for about five minutes, when he takes Kay's money and cheats on her.

Before utterly blowing the competition away by starring in Of Human Bondage and Dangerous, Bette Davis made brief but indelible marks - in incandescent moments that are too few and far between - in such early appearances as this one.