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.
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.
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 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 totally 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, since 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 a fine 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 the Screen Gems cartoons Sommer & Hubley co-directed include failed experiments and utter misfires, unlike those Columbias which try unsuccessfully to emulate Disney, they are not - yes, as passionately loathed by animation buffs other than this writer as they are - 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 by Famous Studios 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. It is possible that the ace in the hole of Famous Studios (and later Terrytoons), the extremely original and imaginative animator Jim Tyer, worked on both.
Spree For All was produced at a time before Famous Studios, at the end of the 1940's and in the early 1950's, would crank out mind-numbingly unfunny and dreary but very nicely animated cartoons with alarming frequency. In 1946, Famous was still producing excellent work, comparable to the recently discontinued Superman series, with the brilliant sci-fi Popeye cartoon Rocket To Mars a standout. Author Jerry Beck penned an outstanding article about the inexplicably missing Spree For All for his Cartoon Research website.
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!