Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day Comedy



Well, Memorial Day is here, so . . . Are we going to reflect upon the meaning of the holiday or watch comedy films? With a tip of the Jimmie Hatlo to and appreciation for all those who served and are currently serving, the Admiral McRavens among us, it's time to watch some Memorial Day comedy films.



Many of us of a certain age had dads and moms who served with distinction in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and WACS. Of all the classic film comedies about the military, this writer thinks it is good bet that their favorite - indeed, one of the very best comedies from the 1940's - would have been Howard Hawks' 1947 film I Was A Male War Bride. As great a light comedian as Cary Grant is, and he's terrific as usual in this, the stellar performance of Ann Sheridan puts this post WW2 comedy over the top.



No doubt a close runner-up for the greatest generation - and easily this blogger's WW2 vet father's fave - was Mister Roberts. Always enjoy watching it just because Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Cagney and William Powell - we love 'em all - are in the same movie. At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we have been known to double bill it with The Caine Mutiny.



There are few things we can imagine less than comedian Harry Langdon a.k.a. The Little Elf in the armed forces, yet here he is as a very dubious doughboy in a clip from the 1924 Mack Sennett comedy All Night Long. While the king of the silver screen, Charlie Chaplin set a high bar line for comedians starring in service comedies a few years earlier with his 1918 film Shoulder Arms, the highly original Harry Langdon more than holds his own here. He's in top form, very funny. Harry's offscreen pal and key supporting player Vernon Dent co-stars.



Even goofier than Harry Langdon was a certain comic who started in a comedy team that was a sensation in clubs during the last half of the 1940's and subsequently were the principal stars of The Colgate Comedy Hour and a bunch of movies, Martin & Lewis. In Jumping Jacks, Dino sings and Jerry is the human wrecking ball, more destructive than Snooky the Human-zee.



Even less suited for the military: The Three Stooges.



Among the comedy teams, there are definitely some sleepers in this genre. One would be this Hal Roach Studios opus starring Thelma Todd & Zasu Pitts, helmed by noted silent movie director, offscreen character and carouser Marshall "Mickey" Neilan.



One of the earliest L&H films, WITH LOVE AND HISSES, is a military comedy but not among those sleepers. The duo had not established their characters yet at this point, so the guy we see here is not Stanley from the Laurel & Hardy pictures but the more aggressive Stan we see from his solo films. A few years later, L&H would join the French Foreign Legion in BEAU HUNKS.



The topic of military-related comedies made by the Roach studio in itself could fill a half dozen more Memorial Day posts. Several were musicals starring Charley Chase, something of a mini-series within the larger series - and mostly an excuse for Charley to sing tunes with The Ranch Boys. The standout in these, especially Rough Seas, is invariably the eternally winsome Thelma Todd.




Frame grab courtesy of lordheath.com.


Closing today's Memorial Day entry: Abbott & Costello.



The Abbott & Costello Universal Films DVD box set is chock full off World War II themed films.




Any one of the A&C service comedies - Buck Privates, In The Navy, Keep 'Em Flying, Buck Privates Come Home - goes very well on Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Back in 2019: Silent Movie Innovators Bowers & Blaché




Good news for silent movie aficionados: a new Blu-ray set spotlights stop-motion animation innovator Charley Bowers, while a new documentary now in movie theaters covers the career of filmmaking pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché. There is also a new DVD collecting the few existing films starring World War I era comedians Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran.



The Extraordinary World Of Charley Bowers isn't the first Charley Bowers collection; that was a 2-DVD set issued back in the 1990's.



The Extraordinary World Of Charley Bowers is, however, the first collection on Blu-ray and includes newly found titles not on the previous DVD release.



First heard about this Bowers Blu-ray when the collection was announced in 2014 and am happy to see it officially out!



The animation and sight gag-packed Bowers Comedies get the restoration treatment on Blu-ray from Lobster Films, distributed by Flicker Alley.



The films of Bowers, the indescribable comic, animator and illustrator, who blended live-action silent era comedy with innovative stop-motion techniques akin to what Willis "King Kong" O Brien and Ladislaw Starewicz were doing, are more akin to the way-out visionary ideas of Ernie Kovacs than to any of his 1920's contemporaries.



The Charley Bowers Blu-ray is available for pre-order and will be officially released on June 25.



For more on the films of Charley Bowers, check out author Imogen Sara Smith's outstanding and scholarly article on the animator/comedian in Bright Lights Film Journal.



Courtesy of Be Natural Productions


Another extraordinary visionary, high atop the short list of the most important and groundbreaking figures in the history of movies, who was there blazing new trails with the Lumiere brothers at the very beginning: producer-director-writer-cinematographer and head of Solax Studios, Alice Guy-Blaché.



In Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, one of the very first filmmakers (arguably, the first narrative filmmaker), the cinema's first mogul gets her due.



The new film by Pamela B. Green tells the Alice Guy-Blaché story via a host of recently discovered photos and historic footage.



The following trailer for Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché reveals that, rather astonishingly, a fair number of movie stars, filmmakers, producers and directors had never heard of Alice Guy Blaché.



Frankly, that causes us at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog to shake our heads in disbelief.



We were thrilled and delighted to devote a post to the original Kickstarter which raised the initial funds to get the ball rolling on its production.



As Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché was in production, a few more of Mademoiselle Blaché's long lost films - it's been estimated that she made over a thousand - turned up. Some are on the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers Blu-ray and the Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology collection from Flicker Alley.




While it's true that very little was said about her in film history courses 40 years ago - her entire cinematic legacy was lost back then - Alice Guy Blaché's legacy as a female moviemaking powerhouse before the rise of Mary Pickford as producer-star, before the word "filmmaker" existed, has received much long overdue acclaim, including several books, theatrical showings of the aforementioned Kino Lorber collection Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, and a comprehensive Whitney Museum exhibit, over the past decade.



Those who saw her films on Turner Classic Movies in 2013, as well as on the big screen as part of a presentation by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival a few years ago, certainly are well aware of Alice Guy-Blaché.



Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is the first documentary about Blaché in quite a few years to hit the film festival circuit and receive a theatrical release, but not the first documentary about Alice Guy Blaché.



With the research of historians Anthony Slide and Alison McMahan, who have championed her work for decades, The National Film Board of Canada produced The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché, which included interview footage of Alice from the 1950's, in 1995.



For more info on Alice Guy-Blaché, see:

Women Film Pioneers Project

Auteur! Auteur!: 'Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché'

Alice Guy-Blaché, Forgotten Film Pioneer

A four book series, The Life and Work of Alice Guy-Blaché by Janelle Dietrick:



Alice & Eiffel: A New History of Early Cinema and the Love Story Kept Secret for a Century

Illuminating Moments: The Films of Alice Guy-Blaché

La Fée Aux Choux: Alice Guy's Garden of Dreams

Mademoiselle Alice: A Novel




Two books by Alison McMahan

Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema

The Solax Films of Alice Guy Blaché



Completing today's post on silent film rarities, a limited edition DVD collects the few surviving films of the prolific comedians Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran.



Lyons & Moran were very talented and funny comic actors, at first part of a troupe directed by Al Christie that made the Nestor Comedies series.



Key in a sophisticated comedy and farce lineage, along with the duo of John Bunny and Flora Finch and the marital comedy stars Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, the witty comic actors were very important in the history of screen humor and among the first to establish the Al Christie studio's situational comedy approach.



Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran co-starred in dozens of sophisticated farces with hints of slapstick and silliness - over 300 films - for Nestor and Universal from 1912-1921.



The Lyons-Moran Comedies' influence continued after the team broke up in 1921. Charley Chase, who, along with future Our Gang diector Robert McGowan, worked as a writer/director on the sophisticated comedies of Mr & Mrs. Carter DeHaven in 1920, began his career making uncredited cameos in Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran Nestor comedies, before joining Mack Sennett's Keystone as a stock company member in 1914. Chase was and eventually would, in collaboration with co-director Leo McCarey at the Hal Roach studio, blend elements of a sophisticated comedy approach with goofy sight gags and judicious moments of outrageous slapstick.



They also wrote and directed a fair number of their own starring vehicles, especially in the last series for Universal, the Lyons-Moran Star Comedies.



Whether the duo were a comedy team in the same sense as Laurel & Hardy remains debatable - this blogger thinks the troupe as a whole, which also featured comediennes Victoria Forde, Edith Roberts, Betty Compson, Billie Rhodes and Charlotte Merriam, constituted the comedy team - at least now it is possible to see a few of the Lyons & Moran films on DVD, thanks to the Library of Congress and the efforts of Rare Silent Films in Portland, OR.



Even more amazing is that the Early Universal Shorts of Lyons & Moran DVD is labeled volume 1; the incredibly low survivability rate on Lyons & Moran films makes one wonder how there could be actually enough existing titles to make a volume 2. Maybe there are. . .

Monday, May 13, 2019

Saturday in Moraga: Mr. Lobo hosts The Psychotronix Film Festival


Horror host Mr. Lobo from Cinema Insomnia will be the master of ceremonies this Saturday for an evening of psychotronic movie fun at the Rheem Theatre! It's Cinema Insomnia LIVE!



Sci Fi Bob Ekman and Scott Moon from the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival will present a program of Scopitones and Soundies, cartoons, B-movie trailers, vintage snack bar ads, clips from monster movies, "educational" films and 1950's commercials.



The Rheem Theatre is located at 350 Park Street in Moraga. To contact the theatre's box office, call (925) 388-0751. Main office phone is (925) 388-0752.


Wednesday, May 08, 2019

This Weekend at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater: Maltin Fest



Here is a treat for Southern California residents: author, film historian and good guy Leonard Maltin and his intrepid movie buff daughter (and co-host of the most entertaining Maltin On Movies podcast) Jessie, present MaltinFest all weekend at the Egyptian Theatre. Sounds like a weekend of big screen fun to all of us at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog!



The three-day festival, which takes place Friday through Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre, presents a selection of movies the Maltins (Leonard, Alice, his wife of 44 years and Jessie) consider hidden gems. These include Big Eyes, Tim Burton's film about painter Margaret Keane starring Amy Adams.



The 1996 film Citizen Ruth, Alexander Payne’s directorial debut, shall receive the spotlight again.



Also on the bill: John Carney's 2016 feature Sing Street



Among the excellent movies on hand: Songcatcher, directed and written by Maggie Greenwald (known for Sophie and the Rising Sun).



Among the not quite excellent films on hand will be the one, the only Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, starring Martin & Lewis imitators Sammy Petrillo and Duke Mitchell.



Tickets range from $50 for a Friday badge to $195 for the weekend pass. Film students and teachers can buy discounted weekend passes for $25, and if you bring your mom on Mother’s Day, she’ll be admitted free. Mother’s Day will also feature such writers as Alicia Malone, Jon Burlingame, Robert Bader and Don Hahn doing book signings.

"Walk like an Egyptian" at the Egyptian Theatre, at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. Their phone number is (323) 461-2020. For more info, check out the following article on MaltinFest by Susan King.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

May 2019 means the San Francisco Silent Film Festival - and Maypole dances



This correspondent will not be able to attend the 2019 San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre, which opened last night, but shall recommend it strongly to classic movie fans.



In the following interview, San Francisco Silent Film Festival board president Rob Byrne elaborates further about silent movies, the festival and film preservation.



The 2019 festival shall present 25 programs, including an illustrated lecture presentation at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, all with live musical accompaniment.



The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will feature movies from ten different countries — Bali, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the United States and the USSR. The cool silent movies shall be accompanied by 40 brilliant musicians from around the world.



This year's festival is bookended by The Cameraman and Our Hospitality, two unbeatable classic films starring Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorite Buster Keaton.



Buster's 1928 opus The Cameraman kicked off the festival in style last night.



While a terrific movie and fitting swan song for the silent era, The Cameraman, as A Night At The Opera does for The Marx Brothers, represents the beginning of the end for The Great Stone Face. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To A Blog regard the film with mixed emotions.



Keaton's era as a brilliant director and filmmaking innovator who created such masterpieces as The General came to an end when he signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, although his genius as a comedian and comic actor remained undimmed right up to his last film appearances. Since The Cameraman was Keaton's first starring feature after signing the contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, it fills this writer and Buster fan with a certain amount of foreboding.



As great a feature film as The Cameraman is, all this film buff can think of is MGM's reputation as a notorious comedy-killer with everyone not named William Powell and Myrna Loy.



Nonetheless, go see The Cameraman and Our Hospitality in proper big screen glory. Buster's cinematic brilliance fills a movie palace as powerfully as it did in the 1920's.



The complete San Francisco Silent Film Festival schedule can he found here.



Two writers we follow and think highly of are offering their two cents on on this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Mary Mallory of Hollywood Heritage Museum (and the co-author with Karie Bible of several books), has posted one of her customary thoughtful and well-written reviews, while the writer of one of our favorite classic movie blogs, Silentology, Minnesota film historian Lea Stans, shall review every program!



Silentology, as expected has covered the 2019 San Francisco Silent Film Festival in detail. This is good, as this correspondent's eyeballs can no longer hold out beyond Day 2 of a massive film festival before saying "no mas, no mas" anymore. So kudos to these writers and everyone involved with this epic film festival.


In addition to documentaries about far-flung topics (including silent movies), all kinds of stuff can be found on YouTube, including . . . merry May pole dancers!



Now, in all honesty, if this writer, never the most coordinated or athletic of individuals, took a stab at May pole dancing, he would run INTO the pole instead of prance around it.



Yes, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has indeed posted clips from the following randy yet cheesy 1932 musical short subject, Over The Counter, directed by future producer and director of big budget MGM features Jack Cummings, before. This 2-reeler, a veritable cheese whiz, screams PRE-CODE from the rooftops and includes scantily clad showgirls doing a May pole dance which is about as subtle as a stainless steel shovel in the face (starting at 6:21). Due to our 3 1/2 degrees of decorum, we won't use the word "climax."



In closing, if you and yours are able to get your classic movie lovin' derrieres to the Bay Area and afford to spend the dough-re-me on the 2019 fest by all means get your movie lovin' derrieres to the Castro Theatre.




Photo by Tommy Lau