Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Duke Ellington

Today, we raise our half-filled glasses to Duke's six decades in music. Then we drain them listening to his music. There are so many great clips of Duke and his orchestra, I couldn't even begin to post all of them. Here's a rare one: the incomparable composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn plays with the band and solos on "Take The A Train".


We follow this with "The Hawk Talks" from 1955. Louis Bellson kicks serious derriere with a cool drum solo, giving Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich a run for their money.


The showman on the trumpet is the marvelous multi-instrumentalist Ray Nance. . . yes, the same Ray Nance who turns up playing swinging jazz violin alongside Stefane Grappelli and others.

Next up, a slice of living history: Duke and his orchestra in Symphony In Black, one of a series of artfully photographed one-reelers produced by Paramount Pictures in 1935. It features a very young Billie Holiday, singing beautifully in the role of a woman brutally scorned by an ex-lover mean enough to give Pollyanna the mood indigo blues.



And here's Sophisticated Lady featuring the great Harry Carney on baritone sax:



And now I must listen to that Ellington Uptown CD. . . Thanks for all that amazing music, Duke!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Follow The Bouncing Ball

By all means, forget your tribulations and sing along through this Fleischer Screen Song cartoon, Kitty From Kansas City, co-starring Betty Boop and Rudy Vallee.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

One Great Psychotronic Fleischer Cartoon Deserves Another


Betty Boop's Museum (1932)

Ready for a cartoon starring horny statues and skeletons? Well, the skeletons are hornier in a 1934 Krazy Kat cartoon in which a gay skeleton, dancing with Napoleon, cops a feel on Nappy's rear - but this still fills the bill. One of those great inexplicable cartoon moments comes when a skeleton (with a Bluto voice) points at Betty and demands "SING!"

About that Krazy Kat cartoon. . . one of the perpetrators of that classic gag (maybe he animated it) was the great Manny Gould, a few years before contributing fabulous animation to Warner Brothers for. . . guess who, Bob Clampett!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Another Great Psychotronic Cartoon

This truly psychotronic (psychoactive?) cartoon, Betty Boop in Mask-A-Raid, epitomizes everything I love about the Fleischer Studio, circa 1930-1933.



I consider the part (at 2:43) when two "Mickey Rat" characters behind huge weird masks sing sublime gibberish right up there among the greatest moments in the history of world cinema.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Burt Bacharach Day

Here's Dionne Warwick, making the art of vocalizing look easy in a French Scopitone from 1964.

Monday, April 14, 2008

My Favorite Star Of 1930's Comedy Shorts


With the wonderful Thelma Todd, his frequent co-star in 1929-1931.



In a hilarious scene from Sons Of The Desert (1933), with my all-time favorite comedy team, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy.




Charley Chase, a.k.a. Charles Parrott, was an inspired and unique writer/director/comedian whose comedy has weathered the test of time quite well. The silent-era comedies he co-directed and wrote with Leo McCarey are certainly among the funniest ever made.








Consider the following Charley Chase storylines:

  • Mighty Like A Moose - Charley and his wife, both bucktoothed and grotesquely ugly, get plastic surgery without telling each other, meet by chance and have an affair.
  • Limousine Love - Charley's car runs out of gas on the way to his wedding. While he's walking to and from the gas station, the married yet nubile Mrs. Glenders falls in a mud puddle, then ducks in Charley's car to change clothes. While her clothes - all of them - are outside the car, Charley blithely jumps in and drives off!
  • His Wooden Wedding - A sleazy rival for Charley's fiancee hands the affable but gullible Chase a handwritten note that says "beware - your wife to be has a wooden leg." One truly bizarre chain of events ensues.
  • Whispering Whoopee- Charley needs to seal a real estate deal with three out-of-towners, so he rents a hotel suite and hires three hookers. The out-of-towners turn out to be the three stodgiest stuffed shirts imaginable.






Chase also has a certain mixture of amused aplomb and sheer outrageousness that makes him more akin to the likes of Peter Sellers and John Cleese than to his contemporaries.



Many of his best films were made with actress and comedienne Thelma Todd. They were the equivalent of a comedy team in their many appearances together in 1929-1931.



I extend profound tips of the Jimmie Hatlo hat to documentary filmmaker Robert Youngson (whose work introduced me to countless comedy greats), film historians, archivists and collectors who have kept Charley Chase's memory alive all these decades after his passing.







Deserving special mention: Yair Solan, webmaster of the Charley Chase website and filmography; author/historian Leonard Maltin, for his key efforts in bringing attention to Chase's formidable comedic legacy.



Kudos, bravos and huzzahs go to Turner Classic Movies for broadcasting many superb Hal Roach Studio 2-reelers starring Chase and other great comedians.







TCM has made it possible for new generations to discover one of the great comedians and comedy creators.



Charley had a couple of theme songs in his Hal Roach films. Here's one he sang in a few of his films; it's appropriate not just to life in general, but to the offscreen lives of so many who made us laugh.





Smile when the raindrops fall, dear.
Smile til the clouds roll by.
Just remember that I love you
Though dark is the blue, blue sky.
Dark clouds will fade away, dear
Soon pass beyond recall.
So just smile at the skies
With those big smiling eyes

Just smile when the raindrops fall.

Smile When the Raindrops Fall © W.A. Quincke and Co. (1930)


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday, Bette Davis

Born 100 years ago today: the legendary Bette Davis, a silver screen tidalwave-tsunami-tornado with unpredictability, nuance, and subtlety.

Check out Bette as Margo Channing (no damn fool, that's for sure) in this clip from All About Eve:



Here are excerpts from a stellar Turner Classic
Movies
documentary about the driven, versatile, creative, innovative and fearless La Bette.






Dick Cavett did a great interview with her. Enjoy these two excerpts:





Palo Alto's Stanford Theatre just kicked off a Davis retrospective, which will include 35mm archival prints of her 1930's Warner Brothers pictures. Among her co-stars: everybody from movie icons Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart to such lesser known but wonderfully over-the-top actors as Warren William.

Bette Davis was the screen acting equivalent of a big-league pitcher who could blow you away with a fastball, then throw a knee-buckling curve, devastating change-up and vicious slider. . . put them all exactly where she wanted and change speeds on all of 'em.