Monday, January 26, 2015

Winter Classic Movie Entertainment For The Snowed-In


With the knowledge that Northeast classic movie buff chums are dealing with brutal winter weather, here are a few goodies sure to make staying homebound during the deep freeze a more palatable proposition. So this is as a good time as any to read books about cinema history, forget all television programming other than TCM and enjoy vintage movies on Blu-ray or DVD (along with hot soup)!



February 24 will be the official release date of the book The Dawn Of Technicolor. This George Eastman House tome by James Layton and David Pierce is clearly a stunning piece of scholarship and a must for anyone fascinated by film history and technology. Included is an annotated filmography of all two-color Technicolor titles produced between 1915 and 1935.



Should a light romantic comedy, 1930's style, be the ticket on one of those Baby, It's Cold Outside evenings, this charmer, directed by Mitchell Leisen and featuring a repartee-filled screenplay by Preston Sturges, was released on Blu-ray a few weeks ago.



What this writer finds most compelling about Remember The Night, besides wonderful performances by the stars and supporting players, is both the intriguing twists in the storyline and a push-pull between sentiment and cynicism.



With Preston Sturges, often the latter wins that battle, but this time his screenplay has an uncharacteristic yet effective warm, fuzzy, evocative and even romantic quality; it's a key factor in Christmas In July, the second vehicle Sturges directed and wrote for Paramount, but very seldom seen from the writer-director afterwards. Worth the price of admission in itself: Sterling Holloway singing "The End Of A Perfect Day". Of course, Babs Stanwyck can't be topped!



February 2015 Blu-ray releases will include, for those who can never quite get enough film noir, the 1951 thriller The Prowler, directed by Joseph Losey and written by Dalton Trumbo, both blacklisted yet undaunted and true to their artistic vision. This bilious, dark and hard-hitting film stars the very good and very underrated actress (and at one point, the wife of John Huston) Evelyn Keyes with character actor supreme Van Heflin.



The stellar restoration by The Film Noir Foundation has been out on DVD, but will be released on Blu-ray on February 3.



Since a feature film needs to be preceded by great short subjects, here are Blu-ray/DVD combos including rather amazing animated cartoons. The following excellent DIY cartoon compilations get this writer's braying Seal Of Approval instead of the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, as the Warner Bros. 3 disc set, while great fun, features quite a bit of material already released on DVD.



Steve Stanchfield of Thunderbean Animation has been mining the far corners of animation history for quite some time now and is involved in the following two worthy compilations. Technicolor Dreams And Black & White Nightmares delves into, among others, the cartoons of independent producer Ted Eshbaugh, who was on the advanced front in producing cartoons in Technicolor as early as 1930.



While Walt Disney, indeed, bought out the rights to 3-strip Technicolor in 1932 and cornered the market for a few years, Ted Eshbaugh had already been producing cartoons in 2-strip Technicolor. Best known is the Eshbaugh studio's 1933 version of The Wizard Of Oz.



Indeed, Eshbaugh's surreal little corner of the cartoon universe - not much like Disney - is a fascinating place.




Archivist Tommy José Stathes and Mr. Stanchfield have collaborated on Cartoon Roots, which concentrates on the silent era, while also throwing in a few early talkies for good measure, with very entertaining results.



The lineup of imaginative animated rarities includes:
  • Lightning Sketches (Blackton, 1907)
  • Cartoons On Tour (Barré, 1915)
  • Col. Heeza Liar, Detective (J.R. Bray, 1923)
  • Bobby Bumps Starts To School (Earl Hurd, 1917)
  • Out Of The Inkwell: The Circus (Fleischer Studio, 1920)
  • The Jolly Rounders (Paul Terry Studio, 1923)
  • Mutt & Jeff: Fireman Save My Child (Dick Huemer, 1919)
  • Jerry On the Job: The Bomb Idea (J.R. Bray, 1920)
  • Felix Comes Back (Otto Messmer, 1922)
  • Farmer Al Falfa: Springtime (Paul Terry Studio, 1923)
  • Krazy Kat: Scents And Nonsense (Bill Nolan, 1926)
  • Dinky Doodle: Lost And Found (Walter Lantz, 1926)
  • Binko The Cub: Hot-Toe Millie (Romer Grey, 1930)
  • Toby The Pup: The Milkman (Dick Huemer/Charles Mintz Stuio, 1930)
  • Farmerette (Van Beuren Studio, 1932)




Also receiving its official release on February 3 will be The Marcel Perez Collection. This compilation of ten films by pioneering comedian has been covered twice on this blog, most recently in the December 29, 2014 post, Coming In 2015 On DVD: Marcel Perez, Silent Comedy Innovator. This is a most noteworthy contribution to film preservation, silent era cinema and comedy. The films are over 100 years old, but the celluloid time capsule has preserved the humor, spirit and charm of these early cinema actors beautifully.



For those who haven't seen Marcel Perez, also known as Ferdinand Perez and Marcel Fabre, he was a pioneering, irreverent and dancer-like comedian who gleefully thumbed his nose at the pomposity and conventions of the early 20th century. Between 1900 and 1923, he starred in 200+ films under a slew of different character names (Robinet, Bungles, Tweedy, Tweedledum, Twede-Dan), both in Europe and America. Perez' principal co-star was the winsome and talented comedienne Nilde Barrachi.



Those silent movie fans who did not acquire a copy of this DVD as a result of contributing to its fundraiser last year take note: the official release of The Marcel Perez Collection and its companion booklet is in February.



While Marcel Perez and Nilde Barrachi are perhaps best known for co-starring in the Jules Verne style futuristic fantasy serial The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola, this compilation features their wonderful work together in comedy short subjects. The pair are funny and charming together, especially in the Robinet series.



Some of the aforementioned choices have not been released just yet - and would be of no use for today's blizzard - but can be pre-ordered to make the next cold blast, or the next "not taking phone calls, texts or e-mails, period" off-day easier to deal with.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Born January 23, 1919 - The Great Ernie Kovacs



Today would have been the 96th birthday of Ernie Kovacs, comedy creator supreme, especially on television, sometimes in radio and writing.


Most importantly, Kovacs was the king of the "blackout" format, a.k.a. strings of ingenious sight gags, frequently set to music.







Ernie was also a very good character actor, as evidenced in the following wonderful soliloquy sketch (note: watch to the end, as the payoff is a thing of beauty).



While Ernie didn't get to write or direct movies, he did have some blazing moments as a character actor, many in features starring his chum and cohort Jack Lemmon.





Ernie Kovacs is remembered best for his remarkably inventive work, in front of and behind the camera, on his own TV shows. He was out of the box, WAY out of the box, but the master of the "orthicon tube".





It is also noteworthy that ubiquitous comic character actor Franklin Pangborn, paramount in Preston Sturges' stock company at Paramount, as well as tres cool silent film comedian Raymond "The Silk Hat Slicker" Griffith share January 23 birthdays with Ernie.



Thanks, Mr. Kovacs, for the laughs - and your creativity.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Humphrey Bogart Passed Away On This Very Day. . .




Humphrey Bogart passed away on January 14, 1957. It is tough for those of a certain age to ponder that Bogey, whose legend represents something beyond just his performances onscreen, has been gone almost 60 years.



However, since the passing of his wife, muse and co-star Lauren Bacall in August of last year, Bogey has been on our minds again.



To quote someone else those of - yep - a certain age love who left far too soon, John Lennon, the key phrase in the Bogart mystique, then as now, is gimme some truth. Truth is what the screen oeuvre of Humphrey Bogart is all about.



No matter how many times this writer sees The Maltese Falcon, he's positively riveted by Bogart's performance, as well as those by Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.



After appearing in a few films for Fox in 1930, Bogart would soon be signed by Warners and be seen in fleeting "anyone for tennis" appearances and periodic roles as gangsters. Bogey appears as sleazy hitman "Harve" in the following gritty pre-Code melodrama Three On A Match.



Apologies for the YouTube poster, who erroneously identifies the racy Ann Dvorak-Bette Davis-Joan Blondell vehicle as a 1933 movie - it was released theatrically on October 29, 1932. Bogart's brutal character, in scenes in which, remarkably, future comic relief Allen Jenkins also plays a baddie, could simply have been identified as "nameless thug scumbag".



While Bogart spent the first half of the decade going back and forth between performing on Broadway and small roles in movies, after Warner Bros. bought the rights to Robert Sherwood's Broadway hit "The Petrified Forest", he got his big break.



The thought was Warner Bros. gangster-in-residence Eddie G. Robinson would portray the gunman who invades an Arizona diner and holds its terrified customers hostage, but, as fate would have it, Bogart won the role.



Bogey hit the part of escaped convict-psycho Duke Mantee out of the park as Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth would have clobbered fastballs down the middle of the plate. Overnight, Humphrey Bogart was no longer riding the bench at Warners.



After a wide variety of roles through the 1930's, with his key part in Dead End as a standout, Bogart played another mad dog killer part to the hilt in the gripping thriller High Sierra, directed expertly by Raoul Walsh from a screenplay by John Huston and (adapting his novel to the big screen) W.R. Burnett. Bogey's co-star was future movie and television director Ida Lupino.



Yet, it was when he STOPPED playing thugs that the picture changed for Bogey. As adept as he was as a bad guy, in Casablanca, Bogart turned the whole idea of what constituted a leading man in movies upside down. Love, death, war in Europe, Nazis, Claude Rains, white-hot and spiritual romance, Dooley Wilson's musicianship, a man finding his truth, the enduring notion of standing for something greater than yourself . . . it's all there. Indeed, we'll always have Paris.



This correspondent particularly enjoys the noir version of Bogey, wondrous in The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, as well as Dark Passage, Dead Reckoning and other films.



In an article from Moving Image Source, Passing The Test, author Imogen Sara Smith covers the films of Howard Hawks, delves into what Bogart's performances bring to the mix and to the director's specific Code Of Honor.



"Knowing how long it took the 45-year-old Bogart to shed his own awkwardness and develop his repertoire of gestures, his potent minimalism and his supremely assured presence adds something touching to his appreciation of nineteen-year-old Bacall’s quick learning, how well she imitates his own insolent confidence."



Bogart's noir presence shifted into high gear with the classic Dead Reckoning, co-starring the tough as cyanide-infused nails Lizabeth Scott.



Among the wonderfully dangerous films made by Bogart's own production company, Santana Productions (which released through Columbia Pictures), In A Lonely Place co-stars another cinema actress of originality and distinction, Gloria Grahame. It features another remarkable and nuanced Bogey performance and ranks high on the list of many outstanding films produced in 1950.



Of Bogey's last appearances, The Caine Mutiny is a favorite. The twist given to the traditional silver screen personas of Bogey, Fred MacMurray and Van Johnson (as well as the back story involving director Edward Dmytryk and HUAC) fascinates diehard movie buffs.



Beat The Devil is an intriguing genre-busting blend of caper thriller and dark wit.



Surprise surprise surprise, Bogey also could do comedy and appeared to relish opportunities to spoof his tough guy image. His extremely funny appearances on both the radio and TV versions of The Jack Benny Program cause one to wonder if Bogey and Betty Bacall actually were chums of Jack Benny (as well as George Burns), in addition to palling around with that well known 1950's proto-Rat Pack gang!





Stephen Bogart, the son of Bogey & Bacall, presents a Humphrey Bogart Film Festival annually. This blogmeister fervently hopes he will get to attend one someday - just to confirm yet again that Bogey really was the greatest screen actor of all time. And pass the popcorn.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This Friday At The Castro Theatre: The Noir City Festival Returns



Noir City 13 is back in the saddle - no doubt ridden by an alcoholic former movie western star, now living in a flop house over a liquor store - yet again this Friday night at San Francisco's Castro Theatre. As the 2015 festival's theme is 'Til Death Do Us Part, the 25 films delve into marriages which give new meaning to the phrase "tie the knot".



As the complete schedule indicates, there will be two 35mm restorations in the festival. Woman On The Run features Ann Sheridan - much admired at Way Too Damn Lazy For A Blog for her fine performance alongside Cary Grant in the Howard Hawks comedy I Was A Male War Bride - with Dennis O' Keefe from quintessential noirs T-Men and Raw Deal.



Also newly restored on glorious 35mm film, The Guilty stars Bonita Granville, former child star and later producer of the Lassie TV show, in a dual role.



Fans of Hollywood's grande dames will not be disappointed, as the program includes hard-boiled vehicles for the aforementioned Ann Sheridan, Barbara Bel Geddes, Joan Fontaine, Claudette Colbert and Barbara Stanwyck. In Clash By Night, directed by Fritz Lang, an added bonus is one of Marilyn Monroe's earliest screen roles.



The Robert Ryan double bill will include what this correspondent considers arguably the most brilliant piece of pure filmmaking to emerge from the noir genre (yes, topping Orson Welles' A Touch Of Evil), director Robert Wise's masterful The Set-Up.



The Bigamist gets both Joan Fontaine and Ida Lupino making whoopee with film noir mainstay Edmond O' Brien - no, not Cary Grant, Gary Cooper or Robert Ryan, but. . . Edmond O' Brien - although not at the same time or in the same city. This is just one of several outstanding features directed by Ms. Lupino, who, just a few years later, would be the only director working in television to helm episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, The Twilight Zone AND Have Gun, Will Travel.



On the campier side of noir, in Born To Be Bad, Joan Fontaine takes a gallon of gasoline and a match to her previous "good girl" Hollywood movie image. . . and (forgive the writer) has a blast in the process!



Ms. Fontaine's character, the ever-horny Christabel Caine Carey, makes Errol Flynn look like an "asexual".



Noir City 13 also includes a Thin Man double bill: the first two films in the MGM series, featuring Myrna Loy and William Powell as everybody's favorite witty, charming, sophisticated and hard-drinking sleuths from the single malt Scotch-soaked brain of Dashiell Hammett.



For more info, check out the Noir City and Castro Theatre websites.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Training Regimen In Preparation For The 2015 Noir City Festival



Well, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog have somehow survived yet another one of those earth trips around the sun, lived to see a few more classic movies and say a reasonably hearty Happy New Year! That means it's January and we anticipate the Noir City 13 festival this month, soon to bring dark tales of doomed souls to San Francisco's spectacular Castro Theatre.



To start getting properly "in training" for the festival, the regimen shall first involve watching these three films that ran back-to-back in the TCM noir night a few weeks ago - only stopping for coffee, Scotch, cheap cigarettes and bathroom breaks.

Then it's time for a trifecta of cool tunes trolling the depths of despair.







Then, next up - must watch a few more films. . .













At that point, to delve further into that chiaroscuro mood, read The Sound of Film Noir by Robert Cumbow, any three Raymond Chandler novels and Noir City Annual #6: The Best Of NOIR CITY Magazine 2013 - and then, by all means, listen to a few more recordings.






And now for a few trailers. . .









And if that simply isn't enough, buy these albums, all distinctively corrosive amalgamations of greasy quarter-notes and naughty nocturnes from deep within the asphalt jungle of film noir music.

Carlos Franzetti & The Prague Philharmonic: Film Noir

Chansons Et Musiques Des Films Noirs

Crime Scene USA: Classic Film Noir Themes & Jazz Tracks



Film Noir - Angelo Badalamenti

Film Noir To Accompany Your Sleepless Nights

Jazz Noire: (Darktown Sleaze from The Mean Streets of 1940's L.A.)



Jazz On Film: Film Noir

Legendary Film Noir Movies

Murder Is My Beat: Classic Film Noir Themes And Scenes

And here, to finish this off, is a haunting melody by the great David Raksin.


Friday, January 02, 2015

A Slice Of Ham For New Year's




Extending a Happy New Year tip of the Jimmie Hatlo top hat to author Ed Watz, for the following classic comedy featuring one of the very best of the non-Big Three silent film comedians, Lloyd Hamilton.


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year 2015 - Cheers From Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog!




Approximately 82 years too late for the quite sprightly gal above, the knuckleheads at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog wish a Happy New Year, Good Tidings, Good Health and a not too terribly inebriated Auld Lang Syne chorus (or three)!