Large Association of Movie Blogs
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Friday, August 31, 2012

TV Shows We'd Love To See

I don't know, unfortunately, who is responsible for this graphic, but. . . one wonders where Bela disposed of Lucy, Desi, Fred and Ethel!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Spice Of The Program, Part One

Ever-attracted to films that either/or are odd, hilarious, surreal, inexplicable and in some instances widely panned (both in their time and decades later), I personally find the wide-ranging short subjects distributed by Earle W. Hammons' Educational Pictures - and promoted as The Spice Of The Program - a intriguing, bizarre and frequently surprising corner of film history.

If the following detailed yet anonymous capsule history posted on Wikipedia is any indication, I am not the only one who greets the Spice Of The Program logo as an invitation to a weird and wonderful place in 1920's and 1930's cinematic lore.

There are numerous instances in which Educational was historically important. Mr. William Goodrich, A.K.A. The Artist Formerly Known As Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, was still banned from cavorting on the silver screen, but directed scads of comedy shorts for Educational. Although silent movie icon Louise Brooks, cast in a remarkably bad Educational short Arbuckle directed, described the former Paramount star as a Dead Man Walking - "just sat in his director's chair like a man dead. . . had been very nice and sweetly dead ever since the scandal that ruined his career" - there are individual films from this period in which the sleeping giant's comedy mojo came roaring back to life. One is the following terrific, outrageous, surreal example of It Came From Educational Pictures: the 1932 short comedy, Bridge Wives, featuring a wonderfully unhinged performance by Roscoe's nephew and former cohort from the Sennett and Comique studios - and soon to be grizzled western sidekick - Al St. John.

The comic brilliance of this wild and wooly 1-reeler indicates that Roscoe may not have been a Dead Man Walking after all. Perhaps working with Al again enlivened him.

And . . . for another prime example of sheer silent movie wonderfulness, there are the comedies designed by and starring actor/animator Charley Bowers, whose 1920's series for FBO and Educational showcased his innovative and imaginative stop-motion technique.

Paralleling the country at large, Educational Pictures rode high in The Roaring Twenties before hitting hard times in the 1930's. Founded as a instructional film producer/distributor by real estate tycoon Hammons, who soon determined that the dough-re-me was definitely NOT in educational short subjects, Educational Pictures got in the laughs biz by contracting with two principals from the successful Fox Sunshine Comedies, producer-director Jack White and comedian-gagman Lloyd "Ham" Hamilton in April 1920.

The company would eventually end up distributing short subjects from three major producers - White (a.k.a. Preston Black), Mack Sennett and Al Christie - and be directly responsible for a huge portion of silent film comedy history.

Having hit the big time with Hamilton, Educational raided the Fox studio's comedy shorts department with the aggressiveness of the New York Yankees.

The company bolstered their roster with two triple-jointed acrobatic gymnastic comics, the best in the business, from Fox: the aforementioned Al St. John and Lupino Lane (as well as, a few years later, Clyde Cook).

Adept at signing headlining comedians between stints at all the fun factories, Educational Pictures gave Mack Sennett and Hal Roach a run for their money as "king of the comedy short".

The Mermaid Comedies unit made quite the splash in the Harold Lloyd style "daredevil" genre with a series starring ex-Sennett player Lige Conley, whose fast-paced, hair-raising thrill comedies included Fast And Furious and Air Pockets.

Educational also distributed films by popular "king of prop comedy" Larry Semon, after chronic over-spending on his productions ended a lengthy stint as Vitagraph's top comic.

Without a doubt, Hammons' deal to distribute the internationally popular Felix the Cat cartoons, directed and designed by animation genius Otto Messmer, still qualifies (in 21st century vernacular) as a GOOD CALL!


Since the story of Educational Pictures spans two decades, a zillion films, and even a "just the facts, 'maam" version is way too long for one paltry blog posting, your correspondent will have to follow this up with a Part Two and possibly Parts Three, Four and Five!

Until then, here are some laughs, 1920's style, courtesy of the Mermaid Comedies unit. First and foremost, here's a very rare entry in Jack White's Our Gang style Juvenile Comedies series starring Malcolm Sebastian. While the picture jumps in the opening minutes, stick with it - this is a funny film, restored and with sprightly piano by historian/accompanist Ben Model.

Last but not least, here's the guy who, in this blogger's opinion, still ranks among the very best of all silent era comedians and character actors, the perennial sourpuss himself, Lloyd Hamilton.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Gene Kelly!

This, like the recent centennial of Samuel Fuller's birth, is an occasion for classic movie lovers to celebrate - Gene Kelly's 100th birthday!

My personal memory, as the movie-crazed individual in a family and community not populated by film buffs, was of seeing Singin' In The Rain on TV for the first time and practically jumping out of my seat. Completely blown away by the artistry of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, I exclaimed, "THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS FANTASTIC! WOW! DID YOU SEE THAT!" to which my affable and kind (but in no way, shape or form artistic) mother responded, "we saw that in 1952."

And with that - let's enjoy some coming attractions trailers promoting the films of the incredible Gene Kelly.

Turner Classic Movies, thankfully, will be presenting a Gene Kelly Tribute all day long.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Burt Bacharach Day

Although this blog, admittedly, lurches between classic movies and music with no rhyme or reason, today's posting will not feature a lumbering rendition of "Always Something There To Remind Me" by Ted "Lurch" Cassidy.

It will, however, in the unending search for unusual performances of Burt Bacharach tunes, present a rendition of The April Fools by Earl Klugh on nylon string guitar.


Listen. . . then listen again. It's a good song.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Remembering The Incomparable "Whoopie Lupe"

"The first time you buy a house you think how pretty it is and sign the check. The second time you look to see if the basement has termites. It`s the same with men." Lupe Vélez (1908-1944)

Yes, this blogger knows she's remembered - and erroneously - for her place in the Ignominous Showbiz Deaths pantheon, instead of her legacy as kick-ass comedienne, actress, singer and big screen presence: the one and only Lupe Vélez.

In a new biography, Lupe Vélez: The Life And Career Of Hollywood's Mexican Spitfire, Australian author, prolific blogger and film historian Michelle Vogel has delved into - and debunked - various urban legends surrounding the fiesty, hard-partying actress who conquered Hollywood movies and took no prisoners at any point along the way.

As those who attended the San Francisco Silent Film Festival a few years back well know, Ms. Vélez first made a name for herself in silent movies. Here she is, tango-ing up a storm with swashbuckling Doug Fairbanks in The Gaucho, a box office hit so popular that it would soon be lampooned by a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Lupe followed that success up by co-starring with Lon Chaney, Sr. in Where East Is East, heretofore a lost film.

She also sang in one of D.W. Griffith's last silver screen hurrahs, the 1929 "part-talkie" Lady Of The Pavements. Only silent prints exist of the Griffith film, but at least Lupe's rendition of Irving Berlin's Where Is The Song Of Songs For Me, recorded in March 1929, can still be heard.

RKO Radio Pictures, no doubt in search of the next big thing and the first Latina movie star, signed Lupe and diva Dolores Del Rio. This directly led to Lupe co-starring with fast talkin' wiseacre and pre-Code icon Lee Tracy in what could be considered the first "screwball comedy", director Gregory LaCava's snappy and repartee-packed The Half Naked Truth.

On loan-out to MGM, Lupe would appear among the cast of thousands in the 1934 review film Hollywood Party.

Arguably, her best known scene in the film is the following sketch with Laurel & Hardy, with whom Lupe made one of her first film appearances in 1927.

While the enforcement of the hated Production Code, beginning in July 1934, did not help her career any more than it did Mae West's, Lupe kept on making films and eventually shared the spotlight with RKO's own randy and cheerfully lecherous pre-Code comedy stars, the team of Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey. One wonders if she was added to the cast of High Flyers due to Woolsey's failing health at the time.

Although there were serious doubts as to whether he could complete the picture, Robert and Lupe collaborate splendidly on the following "I'm A Gaucho" number. It turned out to be the last scene Robert Woolsey - a trouper to the end - ever filmed.

Lupe's impersonations in the same film are a riot, arguably only equalled by a screen comedienne by Marion Davies in The Patsy.

Perhaps noting how well she worked with Bert and Bob, the studio cast Lupe in The Girl From Mexico, an unassuming B-movie co-starring Ziegfeld Follies comedian Leon Errol. Its success launched what would become the Mexican Spitfire series, a fine showcase for the co-stars' considerable comedy chops - and a cash cow for RKO.

These films, in this blogger's estimation, get a bad rap today primarily because they are B-films with a politically incorrect series title.

On Level 1, the character she plays, Carmelita Fuentes, could be seen strictly as a Latina stereotype and example of racism in pre-WW2 Hollywood. On Levels 3 and beyond, it becomes apparent that Lupe is subverting those stereotypes every step of the way, while getting laughs in the process.

Lupe and Leon bring a certain gusto, fun and outrageousness to the eight films in the series. When they improvise scenes together, bringing spontaneity to what were undoubtedly tight shooting schedules, the results are glorious.

In life and in the decades since her suicide in 1944, Lupe Vélez deserved better. Hopefully, Ms. Vogel's book will dispel at least some of the many myths about her life and redirect the spotlight where it belongs, on her groundbreaking stage and screen career.

I personally think Lupe would have been great in Mel Brooks movies.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Sam Fuller

Born on August 12, 1912: one of this blog's all-time favorites, - journalist, iconoclast, outspoken individualist and pioneering independent filmmaker Samuel Fuller. Enjoy the following 1990 interview with one of the great directors.

And since that interview isn't nearly enough, here are some clips from Adam Simon's 1996 documentary about Mr. Fuller's prolific career in movies, The Typewriter, The Rifle And The Movie Camera.

We'll celebrate Sam's centennial and close out this blog entry with trailers from several of his provocative and startlingly original films.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

And This Blog Loves Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)

The 50th anniversary of Ms. Monroe's death reminds me that she, consumed to some degree by the enormity of her legend, remains rather underrated as an actress and frequently dismissed entirely as just another blonde bimbo.

One can easily get totally sidetracked by her status as pop culture icon and forget what a great talent she was.

Watching Marilyn Monroe's silver screen performances, one after another, on Turner Classic Movies yesterday, your blogmeister and blogmistress were continually impressed by her charm, wit, subtlety, versatility and warmth.

Indeed, she could do it all - comedy, singing, dancing, character roles, drama, noir, thrillers - with style and originality.

Marilyn, in this blogger and film buff's opinion, was frequently way better than the often sub-standard formula material she was given by the studios.

In some performances, she's an ensemble player who stands out like Charlie Parker jamming with a pickup band.

Marilyn made her co-stars just look better: witness Don Murray's Oscar nomination (Best Actor In A Supporting Role) for Bus Stop.

Rest in peace, Marilyn, with the hope that the hurts of this earthly existence are far behind you.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

And The JBs Begat Bootsy Who Begat. . . The Funk!

Today the blog gets seriously funked up, paying tribute to Bootsy Collins, the mighty juggernaut known as Parliament-Funkadelic and its mastermind George Clinton.

Having started his musical career as the 18 year old electric bass wunderkind in James Brown's band, Cincinnati's own Mr. William Collins is not only responsible for more than outstanding music, but also for the good works of the Bootsy Collins Foundation.

Bootsy and George - we extend you a funk-drenched freestyle salute and thank you for five decades of tremendous entertainment.