Wednesday, March 30, 2016
These times we live in, while treacherous in many ways, are filled with miracles. One is long-lost films getting transferred via state-of-the-art equipment to DVD.
The latest is Found at "Mostly Lost" - 11 Rare Uncirculated films from 1914-1940, which will be available exclusively on Amazon.com on the date of Bette Davis' birthday, April 5th.
The annual Mostly Lost film identification workshops at The Library of Congress' National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, VA are a magnet for classic movie scholars, archivists and students interested in film preservation. The Library of Congress began hosting the free three-day workshops identifying film rarities starting in 2012. The workshop is open to the public and screens movies from all genres which, as the press release described, are "unidentified, under-identified or misidentified."
This DVD features eleven movie rarities which were identified during the Mostly Lost conferences held in 2012-2014 and preserved by the Library of Congress. Among them: Ventriloquist, a 1927 short subject featuring the vaudeville act of William Frawley - yes, THAT William Frawley, a.k.a. Fred Mertz.
There are also silent comedies featuring slapstick mainstays Snub Pollard, Hank Mann, Monty Banks, Jimmie Adams, George Ovey and Bud Duncan. The Found at "Mostly Lost" - 11 Rare Uncirculated films from 1914-1940 treasures from the Library of Congress' vaults include:
The Nickel Snatcher (1920) - Hank Mann - 9 mins
Fidelity (1911) - Pathé drama - 10 mins
The Paperhanger's Revenge (1918) - Bud Duncan - 11 mins
A Brass Button (1911) - Reliance drama - 12 mins
Jerry's Perfect Day (1916) - George Ovey - 11 mins
One Million B.C. [test footage] (1940) - 7 mins
Ventriloquist (1927)** - William Frawley - 9 mins
Fifteen Minutes (1921) - Snub Pollard - 8 mins
In And Out (1920/21) - Monty Banks - 12 min
Grief (1921) - Jimmie Adams - 8 mins
The Joyride (1928)** - George LeMaire and Joe Phillips - 10 mins
All films silent except where noted by **.
Silent films on the disc feature new piano scores by silent film accompanists Philip Carli, Ben Model and Andrew Simpson, the guys who tickle the ivories with panache at all Mostly Lost screenings.
Much enjoyed reading the enthusiastic Trav S.D. review of Found at "Mostly Lost" and will enjoy watching the DVD.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
"A director can guide, but the artist has to dredge up truth from within herself. And that is what Bette gave us in Of Human Bondage - the truth." Filmmaker John Cromwell
Leave it to this movie-crazed blogger to not associate Easter Sunday with the historic events that transpired 2016 years ago, but with Bette Davis in the melodrama Beyond The Forest. Rumor has it that some shameless wiseguy tried to sneak in a bit to the Old Testament in which Judas' first words were "what a dump!" It did not meet with the Editor's approval.
With much respect on Easter Sunday to those who quietly do good in the world, we note that the 2016 Bette Davis Blogathon commences next weekend - a week from today. The showbiz top hat tip goes to the splendid writer Crystal Kalyana Pacey of In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood for hosting the blogathon, which commemorates Bette's birthday on April 5, 1908.
Your truly will use the 2016 Bette Davis Blogathon as an excuse to indulge his undying love of pre-Code Warner Brothers movies and review the election year comedy The Dark Horse, co-starring the hardest working guy on the Warners lot (other than Joe E. Brown), Warren William, along with ace character actor Guy Kibbee.
Unlike this year's presidential hopefuls, 1932 candidates did not, in a shameless (and successful) attempt to avoid actual policy discussion, brag about the size of their johnsons in public. We say this knowing that Orson Welles made a student film titled Too Much Johnson and also hoping to someday find a DVD of Ghost Catchers starring Olsen & Johnson.
But I digress. . . This movie buff has found the acting of Bette Davis, from her very first silver screen appearances in 1931 to her last TV and movie roles in the 1980's, creative, original, mind-numbingly versatile and frequently unpredictable. Even very early in her career, she mops up the floor with any wooden actors who had the misfortune to co-star with her.
Can't say I agree with the "top 10 rankings" in the following clip - she made many wonderful movies over a six decade career - but it is clear that Bette commands the silver screen from the moment she appears.
If there were 10 ways to play a specific role, Bette Davis would find an 11th approach nobody would think of.
This 1971 interview on The Dick Cavett Show reveals that she was a rather amazing person as well.
Since outstanding writers with vast knowledge of classic movies - Farran Smith Nemhe, a.k.a. The Self-Styled Siren, Imogen Smith of Bright Lights Film Journal and Stacia Kissick Jones of She Blogged By Night, to name three - have penned excellent essays on Bette Davis in years past, it is great to see this blogathon throw down the gauntlet.
There are many, many contributors and this blogger is stunned at how amazingly prolific the classic movie-loving scribes are.
The lineup of posts is as follows:
100 Films In A Year - Of Human Bondage
All Good Things - In This Our Life
B Noir Detour - The Petrified Forest
Back To Golden Days - Now Voyager
Bare, Bones E-zine - Burnt Offerings
Bewitched With Classic TV - Guest Star Bette Davis - Her Television Appearances
Blog Of The Darned - A Pocketful Of Miracles
Christina Wehner - Fog Over Frisco
Cinematic Catharsis - The Watcher In The Woods
The Cinematic Frontier - Where Love Has Gone
Cinematic Scribblings - The Little Foxes
Critica Retro - Three On A Match
Dark Lane Creative - The Virgin Queen
Defiant Success - Of Human Bondage
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. - Prince Of Hollywood - The Parachute Jumper
Finding Franchot: Exploring The Life And Career Of Franchot Tone - Dangerous
The Flapper Dame - Satan Met A Lady
Flickers in Time - A Catered Affair
Girls Do Film - Bette Davis: Classic Hollywood's Forgotten Feminist?
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood - A Tribute To Bette Davis: Fan Interviews
Karavansara Live - The Private Lives Of Elisabeth And Essex
LA Explorer - Spotlight on Bette Davis in Hollywood Canteen and Thank Your Lucky Stars
Lauren Champkin - The Great Lie
Le Cinema Dreams - Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Love Letters To Old Hollywood - Now Voyager
Marielle O’Neill Article Archive - Marked Woman
Meredy.com - Old Acquaintance
The Motion Pictures - TMP Reads: Mother Goddam by Whitney Stine and Bette Davis
Movie Classics - The Sisters
Musings Of An Introvert - The Bride Came C.O.D
Old Hollywood Films - The Letter
The Old Hollywood Garden - Mr. Skeffington
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies - Dead Ringer
Pop Culture Reverie - The Old Maid
Portraits By Jenni - A Stolen Life
Serendipitous Anachronisms - The Man Who Came To Dinner
A Shroud Of Thoughts - Whatever Happened To Baby Jane
Silver Screenings - Dark Victory
Smitten Kitten Vintage - All About Eve
Speakeasy - Another Man’s Poison
Thoughts All Sorts - She's Got Bette Davis Eyes
Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog - The Dark Horse
Wolffian Classic Movies Digest - Jezebel
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Carl Reiner, with Mel Brooks, 2009. Courtesy of Shout! Factory.
It has been a lousy week in general, but a excellent one for elder statesmen of comedy. Jerry Lewis turned 90 last Wednesday and Carl Reiner celebrates his 94th birthday today.
A director, producer, comedian, actor and author of several books, Carl Reiner's first claim to showbiz fame was as a cast member, with Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Howard Morris on Your Show Of Shows - arguably the greatest cast ever assembled for a weekly television program.
After the last season of Your Show Of Shows, Carl continued as a sketch writer and cast member on the subsequent Caesar's Hour. From both shows, this blogger is particularly enamored of peppy pompadoured 50s popsters The Three Haircuts.
Thankfully, numerous sketches from Your Show Of Shows and Caesar's Hour can now be seen on two YouTube channels.
Also available on YouTube: one of the offshoots of the collaboration of Reiner and Mel Brooks on the aforementioned two programs, The 2000 Year Old Man album in its entirety.
The 2000 Year Old Man would be reprised many times, including as a semi-regular feature on The Hollywood Palace TV show.
As part of the path to winning nine Emmy awards, Carl Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Originally, a pilot for the series was produced starring Carl Reiner in the lead role. and. . . it's not very good. It's not just that Reiner is not right for the lead role but none of the stellar character actors that brought so much fun to the proceedings. Re-cast with Dick Van Dyke as the star and Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, Larry Matthews and Richard Deacon as the supporting cast, it set a bar line for snappy performances and sophisticated writing in sitcoms that has yet to be surpassed.
It would also be the template that spawned series from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Barney Miller to Cheers to such later shows as Friends (A.K.A. let's do a Dick Van Dyke/Mary Tyler Moore Show concept cast entirely with young people).
Reiner's guest shots as egocentric TV star Alan Brady are frequently memorable and hilarious.
Carl Reiner directed an excellent dramatic film about making movies in the silent era, The Comic, which starred Dick Van Dyke as a rather nasty and unpleasant silent movie star named Billy Bright. Its sequences of 1920 style filmmaking aptly recapture the feel of vintage silent comedy.
While many writing about The Comic note that the behind the scenes tale is based on Keaton, Chaplin, Laurel and Langdon - and no doubt they were part of the portrait - this writer is inclined to believe that the unsympathetic movie funmaker is loosely based on the tragic story of the popular but self-destructive Larry Semon (1889-1928) who both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy worked with.
There would be a good number of interesting and provocative films directed by Carl Reiner. One would be the dark comedy Where's Poppa.
Carl directed the legendary George Burns in one of his very successful comeback vehicles, Oh, God!, an enormous hit that would be followed by two sequels.
There would be a long-running collaboration between Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, a comedian who could be as broad and slapsticky as Jerry Lewis one moment, more in the Groucho verbal jousting style in another.
While Reiner and Martin made quite a few films together, this blogger's favorite is the film noir spoof Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.
We shall close with an interview with Mr. Reiner. Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog extends thanks with a Cheers and a Happy Birthday!
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
On the 2060th anniversary of Julius Caesar's murder and the 87th anniversary of silent film production ending at the Hal Roach Studios, this blogger's writing mojo is still missing and now on milk cartons. So instead of posting perfectly pithy prose, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog shall offer yet another example of hey - let's introduce another bunch of film clips.
Yes, on March 15 (in 44 B.C.) Julius Caesar was "rubbed out", the Roman Republic bit the big one, the rise of the Roman Empire began - and far into the future, in the mid-20th century, a slew of cool classic movies (Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Caesar The Conqueror, Antony & Cleopatra) were produced on the topic. None of these aforementioned fine dramatic features will be covered here. Instead, here are a bunch of goofball comedy clips and short subjects set in "The Glory That Was Rome." Beware The Ides Of March indeed.
Monday, March 14, 2016
It's that special time of year. . .the one in which we celebrate Pi Day! Funny, rounding pi to the ten-thousandth, four numbers past the decimal point, it comes out to 3.1416, matching today's date - March 14, 2016!
It's uncommon knowledge that Albert Einstein, born on this very day in 1879, was a fan of comedy films, the hilariously funny Time For Beany TV show and big screen fun in general. Now I am not sure how much time the great Charlie spent with the great Einstein. One imagines if the two were alone together, they talked about women.
Here's a film Charlie made for Mutual which, if not the first pie fight movie, is certainly one of them - Behind The Screen.
While there were very likely tons of pie-throwing epics in the teens - the usual suspects would be Roscoe Arbuckle, Al St. John, Ford Sterling, Harold Lloyd, Larry Semon, the scurrilous Billie Ritchie and Kalem's unkempt, uncouth and uncontrollable anti-team of Ham & Bud - we will jump forward to the late 1920's and the film known as The Mother Of All Pie Fights, the Hal Roach comedy The Battle Of The Century, starring Laurel & Hardy and at least 400 pies courtesy of the L.A. Pie Co.
We close our salute by noting that nothing says Pi Day quite like this scene from The Three Stooges' fine dessert-throwing epic, In The Sweet Pie And Pie! The key to this scene is ace supporting player Symona Boniface, the dowager, frequently to the Stooges what Margaret Dumont was to The Marx Brothers and known for delivering the line, "young man, you look as if the Sword of Damacles was hanging over your head" - who joins the pie-throwing melee with unbridled and then crazed enthusiasm.
Friday, March 11, 2016
Tomorrow evening, Sci Fi Bob Ekman and Scott Moon present an all-16mm Psychotronic Film Festival at Rheem Theatre on 350 Park Street in Moraga.
Will there be trailers from wretched movies, schlocky serials with guys in stupid-looking robot and gorilla suits, vintage snack bar ads, Japanese monster epics, Scopitones and Soundies? Yes.
Will we promise to show only the most unintentionally hilarious monster movie clips, 1950's commercials and "educational" films? Yes.
How about the bizarrest obscure classic cartoons, trailers from the worst movies, the campiest musical shorts, the most surreal silent movie clips and TV programs that should never have aired? Yes, indeedy.
Will it be a night of Big Screen Fun for all at the Rheem Theatre? As Hunter Pence, right fielder of the San Francisco Giants would say, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
To contact the Rheem Theatre's box office, call (925) 388-0751. Main office: (925) 388-0752.
Sunday, March 06, 2016
Al Pearce & His Gang, including Mabel Todd and Morey Amsterdam
Writing about Betty Hutton in the last post got this blogger thinking about some of the other musical comediennes of the era, albeit those a lot less well known and in the public eye for a shorter period of fame.
While the great musical comedy star of stage and screen Lyda Roberti (1909-1938) was covered in this very space in our October 3, 2011 post (and, by all means, check out Lyda in Million Dollar Legs, The Kid From Spain and College Rhythm, co-starring radio star Joe Penner), more musical comedy gals came to mind.
Rummaging deep in the 16mm archives preparing for a KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival show, this blogger stumbled across a couple of Soundies, Hawaiian War Chant and Sadie Hawkins Day (both from 1942), starring comic novelty singer - and at one point the wife of Morey Amsterdam - Mabel Todd.
This comedy fan found something very oddly endearing about the wacky comedienne/vocalist and wanted to find out more about the second Madcap Mabel.
For an excellent example of her musical comedy performance style, at times so over-the-top as to make Martha Raye and Betty Hutton look phlegmatic by comparison, there is the appearance by Mabel as "Baby Beth Barton," singing "Says Who? Says You, Says I" in the 1941 Warner Brothers film Blues In The Night, directed by Anatole Litvak.
The cartoony Mabel enters the scene with her signature cackling laugh, which makes one wonder if she was the inspiration for a similarly maniacal chortle heard from the Walter Lantz cartoon studio's equally batty Woody Woodpecker. Then she sings a ditty animation mavens know from the Chuck Jones WB cartoon The Bird Came C.O.D quite well. Important side note: the little guy who looks quite menacing throughout this scene (and accompanied by a stern-looking Jack Carson) is future director Elia Kazan.
Mabel transitioned from vaudeville, in which she performed in a duo with her sister, to singing goofy novelty numbers and swing era standards on radio as a regular on such programs as shows Al Pearce & His Gang and The Komedy Kingdom. Here she is, singing a fine rendition of "I'm Gonna Clap My Hands", backed by Gordon "Felix" Mills and His Orchestra. "The Komedy Kingdom" was recorded at a station this writer listened to frequently in his 1960's childhood, KFRC in San Francisco.
Arguably Mabel's claim to fame (for those not up on her work in radio) is in one of her rare non-wacky roles, as the singing voice for a certain Warner Bros. cartoon - second among the Merrie Melodies to I Love To Singa in the 1930's animated musical genre - Katnip Kollege.
While this 1939 Merrie Melodie is clearly a throwback, more along the lines of the 1934-1935 style musical cartoon than the brash humor pioneered later in the decade by Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett (and the WB story department), the following song, "As Easy As Fallin' Off A Log," is very nicely performed by Mabel and singing trumpet player Johnny "Scat" Davis.
Not surprisingly, due to her comic singing on radio, when she transitioned into movies, Mabel was typecast as "wacky blonde comic relief" in Warner Bros. musicals. In Varsity Show and Hollywood Hotel, she met her zany match as something of a team with famed vaudevillian, chief Stooge, raconteur and larger-than-life character Ted Healy.
The funniest Mabel Todd bits this writer has seen are from Hollywood Hotel. The two play off each other quite well and it is a shame that they did not work together any more.
Further illustrating that chemistry between the blustery Healy and the daffy Todd: both a short clip from and the complete version of the "Let That Be A Lesson To You" number in the latter, featuring quite a cast of comedians, from Hollywood Hotel.
Healy had hired Morey Amsterdam as a gagman and it would not be a stretch to imagine that Ted's untimely death (covered accurately and in detail in Bill Cassara's superb biography, Nobody's Stooge) in 1937 had a negative effect on Mabel's showbiz prospects and career.
Both Healy and Todd were slated to appear in Gold Diggers In Paris, but Healy passed on December 21, 1937. In the last entry in the Gold Diggers series, released on June 11, 1938, Mabel is among the co-stars, along with WB stock company character actors Hugh "Woowoo" Herbert and perennial "mug" Allen Jenkins.
In addition, she appeared in westerns, provided comic relief with wisecracking Patsy Kelly to the Gary Cooper-Merle Oberon vehicle The Cowboy & The Lady and played a character part in Universal's Mystery of the White Room (1939).
She played her Ditzy Dora specialty like a Stradivarius in PRC's macabre mystery-comedy and sendup of the wink-wink-nudge-nudge "old dark house" genre The Ghost and the Guest. Morey Amsterdam wrote the one-liner filled screenplay from a story by the legendary cartoonist Milt Gross.
Mabel's movie career slowed down in the 1940's, although she was busy co-starring in The Laugh & Swing Club on radio, performing in USO shows and early television broadcasts. Mabel and Morey divorced. After returning to radio for a few years, Mabel Todd would retire from show business. Outside of a disastrous second marriage, very little is known about the last 30 years of her life. She passed away in 1977.
And then there's the gangly, quadruple-jointed comedienne even more extreme than Mabel Todd - Miss Cass Daley, a.k.a Queen Of Musical Mayhem.
Cass was an indescribable one-of-a-kind performer and very likely seen to far better advantage in her nightclub act than in the more sedate and less improvisational milieus of Hollywood movies and TV.
Her go-for-broke style recalls few other comediennes besides Martha Raye - even Lucy seems genteel by comparison - but does remind this writer of a certain rubber-faced comic from five decades later, Jim Carrey. The following number from The Fleet's In, the Paramount Pictures vehicle for Dorothy Lamour and Bill Holden which also featured the silver screen debut of Betty Hutton, may be the closest thing to a record of Cass' raucously hilarious musical comedy act.
In the dual role of herself and her double, the inimitable Sadie Silverfish, she made a rather remarkable contribution to the zany Universal Pictures comedy Crazy House
This comedian and comedienne-packed extravaganza was the not-exactly-sedate followup to Hellzapoppin', the 1941 feature loosely adapted from the anarchic Broadway revue of the same name. Both films starred a comedy team every bit as wacky as Cass Daley, Ole Olsen & Chic Johnson.
The showbiz urban legend goes that Cass transitioned from singing to slapstick after getting upstaged by the wacky antics of Red Skelton. Well, she showed Red. . .
Cass also, unlike her 1940's musical comedy contemporaries, serves up a slight hint of salaciousness which is quite funny.
While there is an aspect of Cass Daley's humor that, all these decades later, can come across as a tad TOO self-deprecating, this was not just part and parcel of her act, but accpmpanies a "I'm a gal, dammit, and anything you can do I can do better" attitude, as well as a deliberate effort to out-Skelton Skelton in the physical comedy department.
Bear in mind, it was a few years later that I Love Lucy debuted, so Lucille Ball had not won that contest just yet. The incomparable Imogene Coca had neither debuted in The Admiral Broadway Revue nor made comedy history in Your Show Of Shows. The debut of The Martha Raye Show, written and directed by Nat Hiken (You'll Never Get Rich a.k.a. Sgt. Bilko, Car 54 Where Are You), was still quite a few years down the road.
She did bring her considerable musical comedy talents to radio, and at one point in the early 1950's had her own show.
Cass was also a semi-regular on Bob Hope's TV show.
She also periodically appeared in very funny television ads.
Cass Daley made less TV appearances once the variety show genre began fading away, but had many fans. One was a vocalist in the enormously popular 1960's Los Angeles folk-pop group and hit making machine The Mamas & The Papas: Cass Elliott a.k.a. Mama Cass. Alas, both of those troupers named Cass left too soon, but created great memories for those who got to hear them rock the house with their music and comedy.