Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last Post Of 2014: Kudos, Bravos And Huzzahs To The Latest Additions To The National Film Registry



While film buffs can - and do - argue endlessly about which films should or not be selected for the National Film Registry, this correspondent is always thrilled to see what the new additions each year are. Big screen favorites represented on this list include Vinnie Price, Will Rogers, Charles Laughton, Zasu Pitts, Spencer Tracy, Charlotte Greenwood, John Wayne, Dean Martin, musical icons Busby Berkeley, Carmen Miranda and Betty Grable, director Howard Hawks, groundbreaking Ziegfeld Follies star Bert Williams and the devastatingly great Nicholas Brothers.







Several titles in the 2014 group, ESPECIALLY the 1913 film starring the legendary comedian, actor, vocalist and stage sensation Bert Williams, supported adeptly by a troupe of African-American actors, are truly historic and represent celluloid finds of the most miraculous kind.




Your correspondent likes just about every film on the list, although some not nearly as much as Charley Chase in Mighty Like A Moose. The mere mention of Mr. Chase, the hilarious and unequalled king of the comedy short (with Laurel & Hardy), reminds the incurable classic comedy buffs here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog that one addition to the registry is an unbeatable classic film directed by Chase cohort, friend and collaborator Leo McCarey.



Ruggles Of Red Gap, one of the most delightful and inspired McCarey comedies, stars Charles Laughton as the very proper British butler in a rootin' tootin' western town - and gets better with each viewing.



The film is teeming with beautiful performances by charter members of the Character Actor Hall Of Fame (Charlie Ruggles, Mary Boland, Roland Young, Zasu Pitts).



Leo McCarey, of course, went on to direct a wide variety of features, from thigh-slappers to "no dry eye in the house" tear-jerkers (Make Way For Tomorrow). Leo also would reprise those "dapper but very funny leading man" concepts he developed with Charley Chase to perfection with the incredible Cary Grant.



Among the new additions of particular interest to animation fans is The Way Of Peace, a stop-motion film produced by Wah Chang and directed by Frank Tashlin, a.k.a. Tish Tash and Frank Tash.



The irony of Tashlin, who slipped the most risque humor imaginable into both his feature films and 1943-1944 Warner Bros. cartoons, writing and directing a film for the American Lutheran Church is not lost upon the writer of this blog!



You gotta love a guy who was part of the WB "dream team" (with, among others, fellow comic geniuses Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng), directed Bob Hope's funniest film, Son Of Paleface, the groundbreaking rock n' roll musical The Girl Can't Help It AND the satiric Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. . . and was also the only person on the earth with the cajones to throw Jerry Lewis off a set for bad behavior.



Also on the list: an epic drama, The Power & The Glory featuring a Preston Sturges script (and co-starring Colleen Moore, winsome light comedienne of The Roaring Twenties), director Lois Weber's 1916 film Socks, the 1933 Fox version of State Fair, featuring the studio's biggest pre-Shirley Temple stars, Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers (a wonderful writer, satirist and social commentator who often proved equally delightful and warmly funny onscreen), "dawn of CGI" animation by Pixar's John Lasseter and more.



Here's the complete list of new National Film Registry additions for 2014:

  • Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913)
  • The Big Lebowski (1998)
  • Down Argentine Way (1940)
  • The Dragon Painter (1919)
  • Felicia (1965)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
  • The Gang’s All Here (1943)
  • House Of Wax (1953)
  • Into The Arms of Strangers: Stories Of The Kindertransport (2000
  • Little Big Man (1970)
  • Luxo Jr. (1986)
  • Moon Breath Beat (1980)
  • Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)
  • The Power and the Glory (1933)
  • Rio Bravo (1959)
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  • Ruggles Of Red Gap (1935)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • Shoes (1916)
  • State Fair (1933)
  • Unmasked (1917)
  • V-E + 1 (1945)
  • The Way Of Peace (1947)
  • Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971)




And with that, like the "voice of the globe" narrator in a James A. Fitzpatrick Traveltalk, we reluctantly (well, not THAT reluctantly), say adieu to 2014 and wish all of our readers a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Coming In 2015 On DVD: Marcel Perez, Silent Comedy Innovator




On the heels of the successful fundraiser mentioned here in the December 20th post - which met its goal yesterday, (congrats to Tommy and Andrew) - is this announcement from Ben Model, regarding the first DVD retrospective of the films directed by and starring the pioneering comedian-director-writer Marcel Perez, a.k.a. Robinet, Twede-Dan, Tweedy and Tweedledum. Back tracking a bit, there was a successful Kickstarter fundraiser to get this project, The Marcel Perez Collection, off the starting blocks earlier this year.



Monsieur Blogmeister, an incurable classic comedy aficionado, plugged the original fundraiser for The Marcel Perez Collection in his post on June 20



This fundraiser having met its goal, Ben Model has sent the following update: "Good news, everyone: the DVD of The Marcel Perez Collection and the companion book Marcel Perez: the International Mirth-Maker are finished!"



In short, the imaginative and prolific silent film artist Marcel Perez will, at long last, be represented on DVD in the first quarter of 2015, the official release taking place in February. Stay tuned for more details.



Currently scheduled to be on the DVD: the following 10 comedy shorts made between 1908 and 1921. Perez's Italian films (1911-1914), in which he stars as Robinet, will be seen in new digital scans of archival 35mm materials from the Desmet Collection of the EYE Film Institute (Netherlands).



The American Marcel Perez comedies will be transferred from archival 35mm prints preserved by the Library Of Congress.



Italian films, produced by Ambrosio



L’abito bianco di Robinet / Robinet's White Suit (1911)

Robinet innamorato di una chanteuse / Robinet in Love with a Singer (1911)

Signora Robinet / Mademoiselle Robinet (1912)

Robinet troppo amato da sua moglie / Robinet is Loved Too Much By His Wife (1912)

Robinet è Geloso / Robinet is Jealous (1914)



American films, produced for Eagle, Jester and Reelcraft




A Bathtub Elopement (1916) - USA, Eagle

A Busy Night (1916) - USA, Eagle

Camouflage (1918) - USA, Jester

You're Next (1919) - USA, Jester



Sweet Daddy (1921) - USA, Reelcraft

In a silver screen universe that has, frankly, included, for every Chaplin or Keaton, a veritable brigade of truly terrible comics, the inventive and extremely versatile Perez (who also produced and directed serials, as well as other kinds of films outside the comedy genre) numbers among the all-time cinema greats.



Ben Model, accompanist and contributor to The Silent Clowns Film Series at the New York Public Library, has been presenting vintage comedy events at New York City MoMA and other venues with author Steve Massa, who devoted a chapter to Marcel Perez in his book, Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy.



Steve and Ben are also responsible for for several vintage film restorations on DVD preceding the Perez compilation, including The Mishaps Of Musty Suffer and two Accidentally Preserved collections of silent comedy rarities, unseen since their original theatrical release.



For more info, there was a detailed discussion of Perez and the difficulties finding details about his birthdate, arrival in the United States, comedienne/co-star Nilde Barrachi (a.k.a. Babette Perez and Nilde Babette), the circumstances behind his death, etc. on Nitrateville

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014 From Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog



And, for the record, your correspondent's favorite Christmas movie is the following:



This one is a real sleeper, featuring a fine script, and with the exception of some truly wretched overacting by "the kid", excellent performances all around. Robert Mitchum, like Barbara Stanwyck, digs deep for a character's essence, in a way very different from stage thespian technique, but always believable, true and focused - and just right for the big screen.



Thanks, Robert. Thanks, Babs. . . and a Merry Christmas to all from the classic film (and Christmas movie) lovers here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fundraiser For Documentary On Early Animation - Ends December 28



Here's another worthy Kickstarter fundraiser, for a documentary-in-progress by filmmaker Andrew T. Smith and animation historian Tommy José Stathes. Here's Andrew, to tell more about the project.



Animation fans who read this blog know Andrew from his contributions writing the excellent documentary about Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and their career producing stop-motion television, Filmed in Supermarionation.



Here are a few words direct from Mr. Smith:

"Hi, everybody! Andrew T. Smith, here. I just wanted to write you all a quick note to say how thrilled I am to be working with Tommy on this project. I've admired his Cartoon Carnivals from afar and now, with your help, I'd really like to bring these films to an even wider audience.



Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has been a big fan of the research Tommy, curator of the Cartoon Carnival programs at various New York venues, has been doing on early animation by pioneering producer J.R. Bray via The Bray Animation Project.



Also enjoyed his presentation on vintage silent animation, Back To The Drawing Board, that aired awhile back on Turner Classic Movies.



To quote Tommy, "it's with great pride that I wish to inform you about a project in which I'm thrilled to be taking part. It's a documentary called Cartoon Carnival, conceptualized by Andrew T. Smith, a fine young gent and filmmaker in England."



"Cartoon Carnival aims to be a fresh new primer on the early history of animation, particularly the silent era." The film will include interviews and commentary supported by complete cartoon shorts from the archive of Tommy José Stathes. More animation from the silent era is available in Tommy's just released Blu-ray/DVD combo, My Cartoon Roots.



"Cartoon Carnival aims to raise enough funding to produce a feature length documentary film which will tell the unique story of the development of early American animation chronicling the journey of the talented artists and technicians who strove to advance the art form."



East Coast readers may have attended silent era animation expert Tommy's Cartoon Carnival programs at the City Reliquary and other venues.



Tommy adds, "My colleagues and I still need your assistance with our Cartoon Carnival: The Documentary Kickstarter. The campaign ends on December 28th and we’ve still a long way to go. Thanks again for your support, Cartoon Researchers."



Check out the film's Kickstarter page, as well as Tommy's website and the Cartoon Carnival on Facebook and Twitter. Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog supports the fundraiser with flying colors. . . make that glorious Gasparcolor!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tonight At San Francisco's Castro Theatre: Noir City Christmas



Vintage movie fun kicks Santa to the curb with The Film Noir Foundation's 5th annual holiday show. Tonight's double bill pairs the classic anthology feature O. Henry's Full House with producer Val Lewton's masterpiece, The Curse Of The Cat People, released by RKO in 1944.



While neither feature resides in the dark-darker-darkest-HOO-BOY is this freakin' dark "everybody dies" noir netherworld category, they are wonderful movies nonetheless. The Curse Of The Cat People was RKO producer Val Lewton's non-sequel to Cat People



RKO Radio Pictures wouldn't release The Curse Of The Cat People unless there was "Cat People" in the title. The two films are not related and (spoiler) there are no cat people or curses in the latter.



Robert Wise directed The Curse Of The Cat People, which delves deeply into the seldom charted territories of childhood fears, isolation, loneliness, family dysfunction, delusions and the use of imagination to survive all of the above.



Author John Steinbeck personally and very uncomfortably introduces O. Henry's Full House, a 20th Century-Fox compendium of tales by the "plot twist king", O. Henry.



Among the cast: Anne Baxter, Farley Granger, Charles Laughton, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Peters, Gregory Ratoff, Richard Widmark (very much in his KISS OF DEATH mad dog psycho-killer form here) - and Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorite Oscar Levant.



The studio's top directors - Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks, Henry King, Henry Koster and Jean Negulesco - each contribute a cinematic interpretation of an O. Henry story. And again, Mr. Steinbeck may be the single most reluctant on-camera host in the history of movies.

Author, historian and "Czar Of Noir" Eddie Muller will be revealing the complete schedule for Noir City 13 (January 16-25, 2015) and premiere the trailer to a new documentary on the festival.



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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

This Saturday - The Return Of The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival!



Poster by Scott Moon. Festival "evolution" logo ©2014 by Sci Fi Bob Ekman.





This Saturday night, film historians Sci Fi Bob Ekman, Paul F. Etcheverry (a.k.a. Monsieur Blogmeister) and Scott Moon will be back at Foothill College in the lovely Los Altos Hills with yet another all-16mm entertainment extravaganza!



The program, jam-packed with celluloid heroes and celluloid zeroes, is devoted to the usual stuff we (and those who produced Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and Cinema Insomnia as well) adore.



That includes B-movie trailers, unintentionally hilarious 1950's TV commercials and advertising films, Soundies, Scopitones, monster movies, weird cartoons, surreal silent movie clips, well-intended but utterly inept schoolroom classics from Coronet Educational Films and TV programs that definitely should never have aired.



This very Monday evening, December 1, all three perpetrators of this festival will be on KFJC 89.7 FM to plug it shamelessly on the Thoughtline show, hosted by Psychotronix master of ceremonies Robert Emmett (film music expert and host of KFJC's Saturday morning Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show.



The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival
Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Room 5015, A.K.A. Forum Classroom
Foothill College campus
12345 El Monte Road
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022 (El Monte exit off of Highway 280)



$5 Admission benefits KFJC. Bring $3 for Parking (in Lot #5)
Public Transit: Cal Train and VTA
Info: Foothill College Transportation & Parking
Arrive early, as the shows often sell out.
Doors open at 6:00 p.m.



"Be there or be a trapezoid"



Poster by Judy Zillen

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014 From Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog



Happy Thanksgiving from The Usual Band Of Idiots at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Addendum To All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! All WTF! More Selected Short Subjects by Paul F. Etcheverry




While the series All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! All WTF! series officially ended as of the July 1934 enforcement of the Production Code, there must be a coda on the musical short subjects of 1933-1936. The way the short subject mojo could - and did - endure after every one of those risque jokes that enlivened those naughty 1932 "Colortone Musicals" and Fleischer cartoons could no longer make it past the censors was via the Sultans Of Swing. Duke Ellington and others made history and did much to introduce jazz to a national audience.



The 1-reel musical shorts heralded the arrival of the big band era, sweeping the country via the international popularity of Louis Armstrong's recordings (with trumpet and voice, he got the ball rolling in the 1920's and began waxing pop standards in the 1930's), the mighty Earl "Fatha" Hines band's broadcasts from The Grand Terrace.



The Saturday night "Let's Dance" broadcasts featuring Benny Goodman's band would be a nationwide sensation soon after it hit the airwaves on December 1, 1934.



The demand for mini-musicals starring these exciting swing bands had arrived. Answering the call and directing big band shorts throughout the 1930's with flair and skill: Joseph Henabery at Vitaphone and Fred Waller at Paramount.



Henabery, formerly a director of silent feature films, as well as the Roscoe Arbuckle "comeback" series of talkie short subjects in 1932-1933, directed band shorts in great quantity for Vitaphone and demonstrated serious creativity in the process.



Such razor-sharp ensembles as those led by Jimmie Lunceford and Don Redman now headlined historic musical short subjects, moving the breaking of the color line along via superb musicianship.



The following Vitaphone short, helmed by Henabery, stars The Don Redman Orchestra. Mr. Redman is part of a distinguished musical pedigree, carried on by his nephew, Dewey (1931-2006) and Dewey's son, Joshua.



Mr. Redman had already provided, as his colleagues Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway had, the swinging soundtrack to a classic Max Fleischer Studio cartoon.



Who was making musical short subjects for Paramount to go heads-up with the innovative band shorts from Vitaphone? Fred Waller, yes, the Fred Waller headed the special effects and photographic research departments at Paramount Studios - and later developed Cinerama.



Mr. Waller got busy cranking out amazing and artful musical shorts starring the greatest bandleaders of the day: 22 big ones for Paramount in 1933-1937. Here's an example of Waller's cinematic "hotcha razzmatazz", a.k.a. High Art On A Low Budget, starring the incomparable and dynamic entertainer-bandleader Cab Calloway (pardon the irritating "Reference Only, Duplication Prohibited" note throughout, which, while understandable, mars an otherwise beautiful film).



Calloway had already appeared in movies, making this memorable performance in one of the wackiest of Paramount features, International House, featuring W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen and other comedy greats.





After making these remarkable musical short subjects, Mr. Waller developed "Vitarama", the prototype for Cinerama, for the 1939 New York World's Fair (for more on Mr. Waller and Cinerama, read this outstanding article by Marilyn Ferdinand - posted on the Ferdy On Films website).


And speaking of artists who retain their ability to both entertain, invigorate and inspire. The mighty Ellington, Basie and Goodman bands have more than passed the test of time, demonstrating a combo of virtuosity and prodigious energy that continues to light the way.




They, along with Jesse Owens and Joe Louis, changed the world. Sir Duke, who then as now can't be beat, gets the last word.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! All WTF! Part 6 by Paul F. Etcheverry


"Bring along your girl. Go home with someone else's. What about your girl? She's gonna do all right." Frances Williams, Hollywood Party, 1934

"The way I like it is the way it is. You got yours - HAH! - don't worry 'bout his." James Brown, Sex Machine, 1969





Back to the wonderful world of movie musicals, not quite chronologically, we continue the story across the world in Gay Parree. In said mecca for visual artistes and jazz musicians, Josephine Baker got her two cents in about just how to headline a movie musical with panache AND star in spectacular Busby Berkeley style production numbers.





Unlike her American counterparts, from Alice White to Babs Stanwyck to Mae West to Dorothy McKaill to Ruth Chatterton to the Marx Brothers, Wheeler & Woolsey and Betty Boop, the St. Louis born entertainer, now the toast of the town in Paris, did not have to deal with the severe constraints of vigorous Production Code enforcement in the U.S.A. And to that, at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we, like the intrepid protagonists in the Tex Avery MGM cartoon Flea Circus, say Viva La France!



We are lucky Ms. Baker made these two films, preserving her beautiful singing voice and charisma as a young performer for future generations.



Nothing says surrealism quite like a musical number straight from the subconscious of Busby Berkeley. While André Breton and Salvador Dali, no doubt, seldom agreed on anything, both would have been okay with accepting the signature Busby Berkeley camera track through the spread legs of jaunty showgirls as a dadaist/surrealist manifesto, on the strict proviso that the chorines hailed from Paris.



After dreaming up amazing numbers for Sam Goldwyn's series of Eddie Cantor comedies, Berkeley hit "paydirt" at Warner Brothers with from the iconic 42nd Street and Gold Diggers Of 1933.



Footlight Parade starred, with musical mainstays Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, as well as the still beloved Joan Blondell, none less than the alpha male of the Warner Brothers lot, Jimmy Cagney - a tough guy who could dance.



By the time the Hays Office, yes, that merry band spoken of today as Joseph A. Breen & The Bluenoses, were on their way to police the movies with extreme prejudice, Mr. Berkeley had to answer the question "what do you do for an encore?" as well as "how do you top the randy Warner Brothers comedy hit Convention City (not a musical per se, but jam-packed with the usual suspects)?"



Here's the Busby response: a wild "50,000 showgirls and counting" production number and "screw the Code - and you too, Mr. Breen" manifesto, just one production number from Dames, which hit the movie palaces on September 1, 1934. Beats the living daylights out of 76 Trombones.



Also from Dames, the I Only Have Eyes For You number manages to be imaginative, bizarre, a tad creepy, beautiful and oddly sweet and poignant in the same fell swoop. Besides, it's difficult for any card-carrying classic movie buff NOT to love Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell (here in his pre-Philip Marlowe and Johnny O'Clock crooner phase).



There were many more films featuring Mr. Berkeley's unique handiwork, including Fashions Of 1934, the dark, disturbing, brilliant and weirdly militaristic Lullaby Of Broadway number from Gold Diggers Of 1935, and such both over-the-top and over-the-edge (but fascinating) misfires as the Al Jolson vehicle Wonder Bar (from the Leonard Maltin review, "very strange, often tasteless musical drama set in Paris").




Seeing some of the stranger moments from Wonder Bar (we shall spare you the Goin' To Heaven On A Mule segment, arguably the most grotesque musical interlude in motion picture history, featuring racial stereotypes utterly dumbfounding even by 1934 standards), one realizes it isn't an accident that the YouTube channel devoted to the choreographer/director/mad scientist is titled Unhinged! A Busby Berkeley Collection.



While Paramount Pictures made numerous contributions to the musicals of 1929-1934, the most "paramount" ones were the continental and sophisticated Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette McDonald features, several directed by none other than Ernst Lubitsch.



Monsieur Blogmeister must grudgingly admit to having a profound soft spot in his heart for the team's third Paramount vehicle, Love Me Tonight, directed brilliantly by Rouben Mamoulian.



The opening of this film presents the sounds of everyday life, circa 1932, as a musical number featuring no singing and dancing. . . a gorgeous piece of filmmaking, as well a living snapshot of a bygone era.



Then there's the Isn't It Romantic number, which also employs these cinematic techniques.



No doubt when diva McDonald moved on to MGM to co-star with Nelson Eddy, as enjoyable as those movies (Rose Marie especially) are, they meant the end of the misbehavin' pre-Code era.



MGM's Dancing Lady starred someone who wanted to be as epic a star as Josephine Baker. Well, she did not hit the international stages as Baker did but was a movie star for the better part of five decades - headliner of numerous MGM and Warner Bros. vehicles - and, above all, survivor - Joan Crawford.



The following clips were from Dancing Lady, MGM's effort to have a movie musical hit as boffo as 42nd Street. While Diva Crawford isn't Eleanor Powell, Vera-Ellen or Ginger Rogers, she gives it her all and, by golly, her partner is Fred Astaire, always fun to watch and there to give the moviegoing audience maximum entertainment value.





RKO Radio Pictures continued its series of musicals starring the hard-working comedy team of Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey, often supported by the spunky and charming Dorothy Lee. While The Marx Brothers may have been the funniest and most anarchic of the comedy teams in 1928-1934, otherwise, Bert Wheeler & Woolsey practically had the wacky musical comedy genre all to themselves.



The following number is one of the saner musical moments from their 1933 "no gag too wild, no bit too tasteless, no opportunity for nose-thumbing left behind" opus Diplomaniacs.



On loan to Columbia in 1932, the team made their most pre-code of all pre-codes, So This Is Africa, a film considered so scandalous that the original cut of the risque romp was edited severely to make it acceptable for theatrical release.



A significantly pruned-down version of the film would eventually be released on April 22, 1933.



A complete print of the original cut of So This Is Africa, unfortunately, does not exist.



In the comedy team's very funny 1934 film, Hips Hips Hooray, co-starring Thelma Todd and Dorothy Lee, a famous choreographer assisted, uncredited, with the wonderfully goofy dance numbers: Hermes Pan, between gigs - he would stage and design the dance numbers for ALL NINE of RKO's Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals.



Another W&W romp, Cockeyed Cavaliers, was released theatrically on June 29, 1934, TWO DAYS before enforcement of the Production Code took effect. Hence, the lines about "dallying" and the usual Bert n' Bob risque repartee. Thelma Todd is so funny in Hips Hips Hooray and Cockeyed Cavaliers, taking advantage of a chance to demonstrate her comedienne mojo in a feature film - it's a shame her tragic and most untimely death in 1935 put an end to this felicitous onscreen relationship. Thelma is at her very best in films with W&W and Hal Roach Studios director-writer-comedian Charley Chase.



Back to Hermes Pan and a choreography throw down to Mr. Berkeley, RKO Radio Pictures followed the successful musical comedies starring Wheeler & Woolsey with an epic Busby style all talking, all singing, all dancing, all WTF extravaganza, Flying Down To Rio, no doubt given the go-ahead by producer Pandro S. Berman as the studio's direct competition to the smash hit 42nd Street.



The ersatz stars were Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond, but Flying Down To Rio was stolen, with the skill of a Willie Sutton robbery, from the headliners by - well, the rest is history - the elegant, facile, yet fancy high stepping by a new terpsichorean team, Broadway's Fred Astaire and the perky musical comedy gal who sang We're In The Money in pig Latin in Gold Diggers Of 1933, chorus girl turned dancer and versatile movie actress Ginger Rogers.



Mr. Blogmeister's favorite part of the film, besides the very creative filmmaking techniques of director Mark Sandrich throughout - without question, would be the showgirls standing on the wing of the flying airplane, then gyrating, doing dance moves before losing their skimpy outfits. This worthy bit of cinema history starts at 2:00.



And THAT bit of WTF wonderment leads, sad but true, to the end of this post and series: a respectful tip of Mr. Astaire's top hat to the star of George White's Scandals, ultra-wry chanteuse Frances Williams.



No, we're not talking the actress and activist by the same name, but the Broadway headliner from the 1920's through the 1940's, in possession of electric stage presence and a wit so dry as to compel Cole Porter to quaff three more shots of extra dry gin. Among other stage and vaudeville triumphs, Frances was the featured vocalist - delivering her trademark risqué songs between the wacky onstage antics of the Marx Brothers - in the Broadway run of The Cocoanuts.



None other than Frances Williams introduced the standard As Time Goes By - YES, THAT STANDARD, the one performed so beautifully by Dooley Wilson at Rick's Cafe American in Casablanca.



Frances' specialty: songs ("Let's Don't And Say We Did") that featured more double-entendres than Groucho Marx AND Bob Woolsey combined. Yep, this was one grande dame, like Lyda Roberti's "Hatta Mari" in MILLION DOLLAR LEGS, who only could have strutted her stuff in pre-Code movies.



Ms. Williams didn't appear in many films, but her few appearances, like those of Broadway star Zelma O' Neal, prove striking and memorable. These include a 1927 Vitaphone Varieties series, a film that at this writing does not exist, Broadway's Queen Of Jazz, as well as a few Paramount short subjects (including Deep "C' Melodies, On The High C's, both also featuring The Yacht Club Boys, and Let's Stay Single), shot in 1929 and 1930. A quote from her bio on All Music.com adds "none of which capture her reportedly startling stage presence".



She also made a series of recordings in 1931-1937 and would be, along with Lyda Roberti and Gertrude Lawrence, among those to perform and record music by George and Ira Gershwin.



Here's Frances, introduced and followed with extra relish by Roaring 20's legend and raconteur Texas Guinan, in the 20th Century Fox film Broadway Through A Keyhole, directed by Lowell Sherman (that guy who helmed the first Mae West starring feature, among other exploits).



This last clip is from MGM's Hollywood Party, released on June 1, 1934. It's the title number from what is a return to, and, along with the very odd, head-scratching yet entertaining Stand Up And Cheer (a.k.a. Fox Follies, mostly known as Shirley Temple's debut in feature films), the revue musical format and delivered, as always with elegance and personality, by Frances Williams.



After this, Ms. Williams made one more appearance in the rare Mentone Brevity short subject Shoes With Rhythm, returned to her métier, Broadway (Three After Three, Du Barry Was A Lady, Bright Lights Of 1944) and made a few television appearances in the early 1950's.



Alas, pretty much everything seen here, except for the Astaire-Rogers dance numbers, would be stopped with Monty Python's Flying Circus 16 TON WEIGHT on July 1, 1934, when the Production Code would be enforced, with teeth. Seeing what subsequently happened begs the question, were people in the U.S.A. outside the major metropolitan areas so dumb that they did not find the concept of Nick and Nora Charles (as Rob and Laura Petrie would on TV 30 years later) sleeping in separate beds wrong, TERRIBLY wrong? They COULDN'T HAVE BEEN. . . The mind boggles.

With that, we finish up this series, as that inimitable 1928-1934 style WTF factor, outside of such wonderful individual scenes as the inventive title number from Top Hat (bravo Mr. Sandrich and Mr. Astaire) and Busby Berkeley's return to signature way-out form, The Girl With The Tutti Frutti Hat starring Carmen Miranda, pretty much vanished from movies by 1935. The many talents of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland notwithstanding, somehow the thought of a wholesome musical directed by Busby Berkeley is something we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog can never quite wrap our brains around.

There will be a followup piece about jazz films, in which, thanks to the musical genius of Duke Ellington and the filmmaking acumen of Fred Waller (A.K.A. the fellow who later developed Cinerama), undimmed imagination stayed intact and red-hot music made it into films. . . even well after Betty Boop's dress was lengthened to assuage the bluenoses.