Friday, November 27, 2020

Black Friday 2020

Our idea of Black Friday at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is not to go out to department stores and hunt for bargains but to watch the Karloff & Lugosi classic Black Friday (1940) twice.

Universal Pictures horror stalwarts Boris and Bela are always just right for that pesky tryptophan hangover!

Thankfully, Black Friday is on the "Boris n' Bela" Blu-ray.

While we love the contribution of Donavan's Brain screenwriter Curt Siodmak to the excellent Black Friday, alas, there just isn't enough Bela Lugosi in this intriguing blend of horror movie and gangster flick for our taste. As Joe Dante notes in his review in Trailers From Hell, Boris is the star of this picture and Bela a supporting player.

Still not quite sure what the lyrics to Black Friday by Steely Dan mean - it can't be about the 1929 stock market crash, as the penultimate days were Black Monday and Black Tuesday - but find the song's goofy narrative interesting.

As much as the albums by Steely Dan, the group most adept at blending pop songcraft with sophisticated arrangements drawing upon elements of rock, electric blues and big band jazz, sold in the 1970's and early 1980's, in this music fan's opinion the best thing they ever did was their appearance with the late, great Marian McPartland on Piano Jazz. Can music reach across the generations and genres? Yes!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

This Thursday: Happy Zoom Thanksgiving 2020!

Monsieur and Madame Blogmeister wish all readers, wherever they are, a Happy Thanksgiving, whether you smoke Old Golds, Lucky Strikes or Bob Marley's favorite brand!

Alas, will not be seeing the family and friends who live across this coronavirus-riddled country in person. Won't be wearing cheesy pilgrim outfits or brandishing muskets.

Also won't just say to heck with it and go to Canada for the Thanksgiving weekend, especially as Canadians would prefer we sub-literate dimwit Americans, busy spreading COVID-19, stay here.

Won't see any ventriloquists or dummies on Thanksgiving, unfortunately.

It will be a Zoom Thanksgiving for many of us in 2020.

So, before hanging out with family members via Zoom, we will observe the Thanksgiving tradition of watching that Tex Avery MGM cartoon starring the Jimmy Durante turkey and the Bill Thompson pilgrim yet again.

And, as the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog does every year, will watch the following video starring an ornery, persistent and obstinate gobbler who frightens the easily scared individual handling the camera.

So what the hey. . . let's adapt and raise a toast - white bread, Dave's 21 seed whole wheat or the first holiday quaff (Anchor Brewing's festive Christmas Ale? Dan Akyroyd's Crystal Head Vodka? Kick-Ass Bourbons? Aaas Jule Ol?) - to our loved ones, before watching The Courtship Of Miles Sandwich, a Hal Roach Studios 1923 Thanksgiving comedy starring Snub Pollard and Dinah Shore's 1957 Thanksgiving show.

Inevitably as death and taxes, The DInah Shore Show is followed by a 1938 Merrie Melodie cartoon starring "Egghead," in which Tex Avery happily skewers American history and mythology, complete with jokes about "scalpers" selling Rose Bowl tickets on the 50-yard line!

Take-out Thanksgiving dinner? Go with the flow! After all, options are limited!

This Blogmeister personally wants a Tex Avery "Masks Of Tomorrow" setup. Push a button and a mechanical hand (A.K.A. the Mechanical Arm Of Tomorrow) promptly stuffs hot turkey, "smashed" potatoes and generous servings of stuffing and cranberry relish in your kisser, then promptly slaps a genuine N95 mask featuring Bugs Bunny on your fat face!

Now it's time for some Thanksgiving-themed Three Stooges, directed by Jack "Preston Black" White (seen in this photo with unlikely pilgrim and excellent movie comedian Lloyd "Ham" Hamilton).

To make the holiday just right, here are some clips from The Three Stooges in Back To The Woods!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Friday The 13th

Behold, one of the all-time favorite songs of this blog, after Raymond Scott - Powerhouse: Friday The 13th by Thelonious Monk. It's second only to Sphere's masterpiece Skippy in our hearts.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Born on November 9: Three Movie Greats - Marie Dressler, Edna May Oliver and Hedy Lamarr

Elated to have survived the last two weeks (and year), this blogger realizes that three of the most memorable and talented women to ever work in movies - Marie Dressler, Edna May Oliver and Hedy Lamarr - share November 9 birthdays.

The "password" for Marie remains her part in MGM's 1933 black comedy Dinner At Eight, directed by George Cukor.

Here, Marie delivers the greatest "take" in the history of motion pictures. No doubt Oliver Hardy and Charley Chase watched this moment of sheer comic genius in admiration.

Marie Dressler had an illustrious career that began back in the 1890's.

Matthew Kennedy's Marie Dressler biography elaborates further on her long career, which began in the 1890's.

Marie would be the top character actress in motion pictures in the first 5 years of talkies, hold her own with none other than the legendary Garbo in Anna Christie, win the Best Actress Oscar for Min & Bill, and be nominated for Emma.

A key collaborator of Marie’s was ace screenwriter Frances Marion, who had the magic touch over a four decade career. Frances Marion’s screenplays did wonders for Mary Pickford and other stars of silent pictures.

Having begun her movie career in the feature length Sennett knockabout-fest Tillie's Punctured Romance, she proved she could successfully transition from dramatic roles to broad physical comedy. Here she is, tearing it up with the very funny comedienne and mimic Marion Davies in The Patsy.

Marie tackled slapstick with panache, often with the star of pratfall-packed Mack Sennett and Fox Sunshine Comedies Polly Moran.

We were glued to TCM a few years back, when Marie Dressler was the Star of the Month.

One of the most prolific character actresses of the 1930's was Edna May Oliver, who began her career onstage and would become most ubiquitous in 1930's movies.

Performing everything from Dickens to Kalmar & Ruby, often brilliantly, Edna brought spunk and good humor to her roles, and, as was the case with Marie Dressler, could absolutely ace both comedic and dramatic parts. Love her in the the Wheeler & Woolsey comedies Half Shot At Sunrise, Cracked Nuts and Hold 'Em Jail.

With Bert & Bob, Edna appears to have relished doing comedy.

Edna received the ultimate tribute, to be caricatured in classic cartoons. Mickey's Polo Team, The Coo-coo Nut Grove, Porky's Road Race, Mother Goose Goes Hollywood and The Hardship Of Miles Standish are standouts.

Here's one of the Hollywood caricature cartoons seen the least, from the B-studio of B-studios, Screen Gems. Edna May Oliver is Mother Goose and enters at 1:29. Spoofing actors and actresses who were not caricatured in any another cartoons, Mother Goose In Swingtime rivals the Disney opus Mickey's Gala Premier and Tex Avery's WB masterpiece Hollywood Steps Out for sheer quantity (if not quality) of movie star caricatures.

One imagines that the Charles Mintz/Screen Gems studio did NOT have the desire or requisite dough-re-me to hire caricaturist extraordinaire and future UPA director T. Hee, responsible for outstanding character design work at Disney and Warner Brothers in those aforementioned Hollywood star-filled cartoons, to work on Mother Goose In Swingtime. Nonetheless, it's a very entertaining cartoon and the only one that features a caricature of Kay Francis!

The great Hedy Lamarr, a.k.a. Heddy Lamarr, while largely known for her beauty and amazing silver screen presence, could be described as a scientist who did modeling and movie acting on the side.

Unfortunately, Ms. Lamarr did not receive her due an inventor and innovator during her lifetime - although that recognition has come since her passing in 2000.

Partly because Hedy was nothing less than stunningly, breathtakingly gorgeous, her screen acting, IMHO, could be a tad underrated. While, given, she does not approach the character acting and comedy genius demonstrated by Marie Dressler and Edna May Oliver, let alone the rarified air and gravitas of a Bette Davis, Ms. Lamarr pulls off the following scene and others throughout the Bob Hope vehicle My Favorite Spy admirably and adeptly.

Richard Rhodes has penned a book about the life and accomplishments of Hedy Lamarr. Looks interesting!

Although the front covers of this still stresses Hedy Lamarr, babe, first, then Hedy the scientist, this looks like a good read.

For more info on the one, the only Hedy Lamarr, check out Anna Diamond's November 2017 Smithsonian Magazine article, Why Hedy Lamarr Was Hollywood’s Secret Weapon, as well as a superb post Trav S.D. penned for his Travalanche blog, Heddy Lamarr: The Scientific Circe. There's also Alexandra Dean's documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.

We finish by noting that prolific silent film comedian and "king of the extras" in talkies Snub Pollard was also born on this day - and that tomorrow, November 10, is the birthday of Mabel Normand, the top comedienne in silent pictures.

Mabel, dubbed "the female Chaplin," worked in short subjects and features, and was a director of her own starring vehicles at Mack Sennett's Fun Factory.

The first headliner of Sennett's Keystone Comedies, along with Ford Sterling and Fred Mace, "Madcap Mabel" preceded Charlie Chaplin as a movie star and appeared in 220 films.

More on the movie careers of Marie and Mabel can be found in Steve Massa's comprehensive and superb book on the numerous women of silent film comedy, Slapstick Divas, which devotes chapters to both silver screen icons.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Election Day

The 2020 election demands a strong ale or two, followed by loud belly laughs courtesy of Moe, Larry and Shemp!

No matter how many times I see this 1952 Three Stooges opus in which our slap happy heroes unwittingly work for super-corrupt politicos, the result, invariably, is me ROFL.

And then we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog will require a bare minimum of (at least) 21.5 hours of sleep, followed by a screening of Moe, Larry and Shemp in Cuckoo on a Choo Choo.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Happy Halloween 2020 from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog

Tomorrow is Halloween of what has been a horror show year - and a very tough time for all of us at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write To Blog, with the sudden loss of a beloved, esteemed and wonderful mascot to a blood clot earlier this week.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — Anatole France

The best this blogger can do is confirm that he, unlike our lovable mascot, is not dead, here to write the Halloween 2020 blog post - and that he and Madame Blogmeister have long since mailed our ballots.

We will start Halloween as we do every year with a viewing of the Cartoon Roots series' Halloween Haunts, a ghost, goblin, ghoul and animation rarity-filled DVD/Blu-Ray set from Cartoons On Film which gets the official Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog Red Seal of approval.

The 15 film set is an exceptional compilation of spooky cartoons representing a slew of studios and animation techniques. Here are low-res examples of two gems from the Halloween Haunts set.

All the studios - from Lantz to Mintz to Iwerks - produced Halloween-themed cartoons, in response to the success of Disney's The Skeleton Dance.

The Fleischer studio made more Halloween-themed cartoons than anyone.

Wish there was a post on Vimeo, YouTube or DailyMotion of the complete version of Boo Boo Theme Song, an exceptionally creepy Halloween "Screen Song" cartoon from Fleischer Studios. Here's the one bit from this Screen Song which is up on YouTube: the Funnyboners singing Boo, Boo Theme Song - and spoofing Mr. Showbiz of 1933, Bing Crosby.

Oddly, the 16mm film prints of Fleischer Screen Songs cartoons struck for television distribution by UM&M/NTA often do not feature the live-action song sequences. Frequently, the song segments were cut from the 16mm negatives. One hopes 35mm materials on complete Fleischer Screen Songs are still intact and sitting in an archive (UCLA? LoC? Eastman House? Eye?) or a cold, dark cave somewhere.

We'll follow that up with, rather amazingly, a couple of Walt Disney cartoons. Yes, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, believe it or not, has a couple of favorite Disney cartoons, after "Pink Elephants On Parade" and Goofy in "Hockey Homicide" (and, at #3, the attempted Diz-Dali collaboration, unfinished back in 1946 but completed in 2003).

A few Disney films are actually apropo for Halloween. The following classic, The Mad Doctor, is right up there with Mickey's Garden and Through The Mirror as one of the truly great cartoons from this series - and, for who knows what reason, passed into the public domain. Don't know why - there were many Copyright Catalog errors regarding Fleischer, Famous Studios and especially Van Beuren Studio titles going public domain, but very, very few mistakes involving Disney cartoons.

Another film we love is the Silly Symphony Egyptian Melodies.

Alas, Walt, no doubt planning the move to full-length animated features, put the kibbosh on the surreal and dark imagery seen in the first two seasons of Silly Symphonies. The Mad Doctor could be considered the last gasp of this at Disney, very odd moments involving ducks eating chicken in Donald Duck cartoons notwithstanding.

In Disney's extremely ambitious animated features, the memorable Night On Bald Mountain segment in Fantasia, may have, to some degree, been inspired by an incredible film made seven years earlier by pinscreen animators Alexandre Alexandrovitch Alexeieff and Claire Parker. Have not seen a quote from Walt Disney confirming that he was aware of this, but it would come as no great surprise that he did, and that it was one of the inspirations for Fantasia.

The Alexeieff and Parker films were created using a technique even more intensely painstaking and detail-oriented than the animation Disney made showcasing the multiplane camera: the pinscreen.

In closing, here's Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker's 1963 homage to that lighthearted partying guy and literary visionary, Nikolai Gogol, Le Nez. It's even better than Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and will haunt your dreams.

Happy Halloween from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, where Don & Waffles, Mutt & Jeff and Alexeieff and Parker all co-exist on the same psychic plane!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Happy Natal Anniversary to the legendary Merian C. Cooper

Born on this day in 1893: a documentary filmmaking innovator, producer of King Kong and Son Of Kong and co-inventor of Cinerama, the extraordinary Merian C. Cooper.

While well aware that Cooper, with director Ernest B. Schoedsack and special effects genius Willis O'Brien created a sensation with King Kong in 1933, the more I delved into Cooper's astounding career as world traveller/adventurer, fighter pilot, aviator and producer, both in silents and talkies, of feature films and documentaries for David O. Selznick/RKO Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and John Ford's Argosy Productions, as well as his forming of Pioneer Pictures to develop and champion the use of three-strip Technicolor in live action movies (starting with the RKO musical short subject La Cucaracha), the more mightily impressed I was.

While King Kong was Cooper's most famous production, he also made history at RKO Radio Pictures by teaming Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers on FLYING DOWN TO RIO, arranging Katharine Hepburn’s screen test and beginning his 20+ year association with John Ford. Cooper's keen interest in Technicolor would eventually lead to its showcasing in the feature films Becky Sharp and Gone With The Wind.

There is so much to Cooper's work across varied fields of endeavor, it is tough to determine just where to begin! A good place to start is the following outstanding Photoplay Pictures documentary, I'm King Kong! The Exploits Of Merian C. Cooper, produced by Patrick Stanbury and directed by Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird for Turner Classic Movies, which explores the breadth and brilliance of Cooper's transitions from aviator to documentarian to Hollywood movie producer and co-inventor of Cinerama.

Wikipedia elaborates:
Merian Caldwell Cooper (October 24, 1893 – April 21, 1973) was an American aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, screenwriter, film director, and producer.

Cooper was the founder of the KoĹ›ciuszko Squadron during the Polish–Soviet War and was a Soviet prisoner of war for a time. He was a notable movie producer, and got his start with film as part of the Explorers Club, traveling the world and documenting adventures.

He was a member of the board of directors of Pan American Airways, but his love of film always took priority.

Cooper was one of the first bomber pilots in World War I. After the war, he helped form the famous Kosciuszko Squadron in battle-torn Poland. He then turned his attention to producing documentary films that chronicled his hair-raising encounters with savage warriors, man-eating tigers, nomadic tribes, and elephant stampedes.

He returned to military service during World War II, serving with General Claire Chennault in China, flying missions into the heart of enemy territory and then changed the face of film forever with Cinerama, the original “virtual reality.” He is also credited as co-inventor of the Cinerama film projection process. Cooper's most famous film was the 1933 movie King Kong. He was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1952 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

The first "giant ape" movie, extending concepts animator Willis O'Brien showcased in the 1925 epic The Lost World, was unprecedented and a box-office sensation, very much influenced by Cooper's world travels and the two documentaries he produced with cinematographer Ernest B. Schoedsack. For more info, by all means read The Making of King Kong by George E. Turner and Dr. Orville Goldner).

The two King Kong films weren't just massive box office hits, they profoundly influenced one of Willis O' Brien's key successors as a master of stop-motion animation in the action/adventure/fantasy genre, Ray Harryhausen.

Mr. Harryhausen worked with Willis O'Brien on the stop-motion wizardry in Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1948 film Mighty Joe Young,

As a filmmaker, technology enthusiast and special effects designer, Cooper was on the advance guard and a key developer of the three-projector widescreen process, Cinerama. He directed the 1952 documentary This Is Cinerama.

New digital restorations of epic films produced using the process were presented at New York City MoMA in January 2018 as part of Cinerama Day. This included The Story of Cinerama: An Illustrated Lecture, presented by the Cinerama, Inc., digital restoration team of David Strohmaier and Randy Gitsch.

Mr. Strohmaier's 2002 documentary Cinerama Adventure accompanies the restored version of This Is Cinerama, completed by Cinerama, Inc. in 2017.

The Best Of Cinerama (1963), comprising segments from Cinerama movies shot in Rome, Paris, Vienna, Athens, Brazil, Japan, Africa, Israel and New Orleans. would be the last project Merian C. Cooper worked on. As David Strohmaier, Cinerama and 70mm champion, describes in the following piece, the restorations can be exceedingly painstaking albeit rewarding work, bringing modern digital technology together with the expertise of those who worked for Cinerama.

Cooper, the intrepid explorer-adventurerer-filmmaker-inventor-aviator-special effects designer has been celebrated by a terrific article, Distant, Difficult And Dangerous: The Life of Merian C. Cooper, penned by Mitch Hemann for the Norman Studios website, as well as an outstanding book by Mark Cotta Vaz, Living Dangerously: The Adventures Of Merian C. Cooper.

And, for more on Cinerama, there's the Cinerama movie theatre in the Belltown district of Seattle.