Thursday, August 31, 2017

“…timber!”


Lumber baron Thomas De Quincey (James Gordon) is excited to welcome home his son Jack (Kenneth Harlan)—newly graduated from Oxford, you know—because he needs a man to ride herd at his lumber camps and apparently De Quincey’s outfit is not a meritocracy.  “Bootleggers, bullies, and bolsheviks [sic] have about disorganized my camps!” he wails to Jack in a title card that made me giggle.  Jack is not entirely certain he has the right stuff to take on the family business…but one thing he does know is that he doesn’t want preferential treatment because his lineage.  His old man decrees that Jack won’t last a week without his protection, and the two men wager $10,000 on that outcome.

Viola Dana and Kenneth Harlan
Arriving at one of the camps, Jack soon becomes smitten with Marie O’Neill (Viola Dana), the daughter of the camp superintendent (DeWitt Jennings).  He’ll also run afoul of the bullying Pete (Frank Hagney), the self-proclaimed “boss” of the camp, and the two men eventually come to blows in a display of fisticuffs at a camp dance, which erupts after Jack commits a social fox paw by daring to dance with Marie even though Pete called first dibs.  Pete and his toady, “Dumb Danny” (Norman Deming), later attempt to bump off Jack but our hero is made of sterner stuff.  Yet Jack not only has to foil the misguided scheme of these two ineffectual villains…he must rescue Marie, who’s tied up in a boat that’s directly in the path of…The Ice Flood (1926).

Author Johnston McCulley cranked out hundreds of stories—not to mention fifty novels and an impressive outlay of movie and TV screenplays—during his lengthy literary career, and is perhaps best known for creating the masked avenger known as Zorro…who appeared in feature films, serials, and TV series on his journey to becoming a pop culture icon.  McCulley’s 1918 novelette, The Brute Breaker (published in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly), was adapted for the silver screen a year later in a Universal film starring Frank Mayo and Harry Northrup.  Because Hollywood loves to “adapt, adopt, and improve” its releases from the past, Universal decided to remake Breaker seven years later as The Ice FloodFlood was one of the studio’s “Jewel” productions—the name they gave their prestige product, for which they charged roadshow ticket prices to compensate for the bigger budget.  Universal’s Carl Laemmle apparently believed that the stature of a “Jewel” would invite SRO crowds to movie palaces…but it turned out to be a complete bust, and the studio abandoned “Jewels” in 1929.

Viola Dana
The Ice Flood isn’t a great silent film, but I cannot deny it’s not an entertaining one.  It’s simple and straightforward mellerdrammer, with a two-fisted he-man and starry-eyed ingenue predictably getting together by the time the closing credits roll.  The characters are drawn in broad strokes; for example, we know Pete is a complete potzer because in one scene he’s riding a seesaw with camp mascot Billy (played by Billy Kent Schaefer) and he allows the handicapped youngster to fall to the ground by quickly getting off his end.  (Later, Pete steps on Billy’s injured foot, complicating things further for the innocent tyke.)  Kenneth Harlan is the dependable leading man of Flood, with a long movie career (he appears in such films as The Penalty [1920] and The Toll of the Sea [1922] that began in silents and ended up in B-westerns and serials (he did a ton of chapter plays) before hanging it up to become an agent and restauranteur.  Viola Dana, last seen here on the blog in Open All Night (1924), is serviceable as Harlan’s love interest…though she seems a little subdued during Flood’s exciting climax (girlfriend, get your ass out of that boat!).

My Facebook compadre and fellow classic movie blogger Chris Edwards did a nice write-up of this movie on his Silent Volume blog in 2013, observing: “The Ice Flood packs a lot of action into sixty minutes.  Exuberant, if not breathless, action.”  (Chris also mentions a similar film, The White Desert [1925], that I’ll need to track down one of these days.)  It was co-scripted and directed by George B. Seitz, a veteran known for serials during the silent era (The Exploits of Elaine, The Lightning Raider) and with the advent of talkies helmed a substantial number of the Crime Does Not Pay shorts and features in the Andy Hardy franchise.  Seitz is not a showman, but he adds some nice touches to the narrative—particularly in the beginning; the elder De Quincey is bragging to his bidness associates that his son will soon be running things and one of them asks if that’s the one who “writes poetry.”  De Quincey replies in the affirmative, and above the heads of the two men is an image of a Nancy boy in Little Lord Fauntleroy clothing, dancing about with wild abandon.  (Seitz also does some effective cross-cutting between the impending ice flood disaster and the action at Harlan’s camp, commenting on the action with risible title cards like “A resistless, mighty monster straining at its Wintry leash!”)

Chris had the good fortune to see The Ice Flood at Syracuse’s Cinefest 33 in 2013…whereas I had to settle for sitting down with the just released Alpha Video DVD.  (On the plus side—I didn’t have to share my popcorn with anyone.)  The Ice Flood remains a first-rate example of why I love silent films so—it tells a cracking good story with a happy ending and gets the job done in 70 minutes without overloading my senses with a lot of purposeless CGI.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My life is a sitcom


Yesterday’s “Overlooked Films on Tuesdays” entry was a little late getting up on the blog…and for that, I apologize for the delay.  As a rule, I try to make a concerted effort to schedule blog entries for 7am on posting days; I’m not sure when I started this practice though I suspect it might be connected to the CMBA Blogathons in which I have participated in the past.  Rick at The Classic Film and TV Café, who generally posts the blogathon links on the CMBA blog, asked those participants to post their entries around that time if they wanted fellow bloggers to be able to access the essays quickly…otherwise they would have to wait until his working day was done.  (I think that’s how I got in the habit.)

I didn’t get around to completing the Danger Street review in the usual time because that Monday, I promised my mother I’d help her with taking my father to a doctor’s appointment that morning.  The Laird and Master of Castle Yesteryear fell victim to a blood clot near his left eye a couple of weeks ago that has robbed him of his eyesight…and because the vision in the other eye has never really been up to snuff he’s living in the same world that Burgess Meredith occupied in that Twilight Zone episode when he breaks his eyeglasses after the nuclear holocaust. 

His appointment was with the Clarke County Medical Oncology Clinic, a place with which I was not completely unfamiliar—having had an appointment there a time or two after my medical incident in 2010.  Mom thought that the building had a 200 address, and I got out of the car when we arrived to see if I could track down a wheelchair for dear ol’ Dad.  I was on my way back to tell the two of them I’d found one when I spotted my father trying to negotiate the slightly steep walkway leading up to the entrance—a sidewalk I even had trouble navigating, and my eyes aren’t nearly as bad.  Before the words “Dad, don’t try to go up that ramp” could come out of my mouth he took a bad tumble, and I rushed down the walkway to help him to his feet.

I helped him back into the car and was just about to tell him to hang tight while I got the wheelchair…and that’s when Mom announces we’re at the wrong building.  We’re supposed to be at the 700 location, so we drive back around because that building is the first one you encounter when you turn into the complex.  I got out of the car again after instructing Dad to wait until I got a wheelchair, and then I wheeled him into the building after securing his “ride.”

I approach the check-in desk and hand one of the employees the paperwork from his primary physician.  I thought Dad had been there before (he mentioned he had, but he was fuzzy on the details), so I figured I’d just spend a couple of minutes filling out an update sheet for his visit.  But, no—the nice receptionist lady hands me a stack of paper the size of a Sears-Roebuck catalog, and asks me to complete it before Dad can see the doctor.  I look around the check-in area for a pen, and not finding what I need ask her if I can borrow one.

She points to a container on the counter that houses a variety of fake-looking flowers.  Now, I saw this as soon as I came in…and two people ahead of me each took a flower after speaking with other employees behind the counter.  I thought, “Well, maybe this is some sort of odd check-in system…and when you’re called to see the doctor, you hand the assistant back the flower.”  I was completely wrong on this score; the flowers are pens.

I’m not normally a cranky person (unless I’m having to deal with someone from Windstream or DISH) but I had rose and shone early that morning (7am) because Mom had originally told me Dad’s appointment was at 8:30am.  She swears she told me 9:30, which makes little difference in the grand scheme of things as we’ll see here in a moment.  Anyway, my slight sleep deprivation didn’t help my disposition any, because I told the receptionist: “I’m not writing with a flower.”  Fortunately for me, my father has been wearing a pocket protector since childhood…and he produced a non-floral writing instrument for my use.  (Note to self: bring a pen next time.)

I quickly scout out the waiting room, and decide to wheel Dad toward the very back where he’ll be out of the way so people won’t step on him when they’re called before us.  (There’s always people being called ahead of us.)  This proved to be a major miscalculation on my part, because the area in which we eventually settled is right next to a big wall-screen TV…that is showing Live with Kelly and Ryan.  Jesus Christ on a morning talk show—I’m officially in hell.  Having to listen to the chirpy Kelly Ripa is bad enough…but she wasn’t on the show that day—she had been replaced for the duration by…wait for it…Kim Kardashian.

If you’ve made regular visits to this blog in the past, you’ll know that I would rather have my nuts trapped in a piece of farm equipment than to be anywhere near Kim or any of her painfully annoying sisters; the popularity of Keeping Up with the Kardashians is a phenomenon I will never comprehend, and I’m completely convinced that it and other reality shows of its ilk will spell the doom and downfall of this great nation.  I’m not kidding; years after Armageddon, there’ll be visitors from other planets surveying the wreck and ruin of Planet Earth, scratching their heads with their tentacles or whatever, puzzled as to why people even watched that shit.  Kim was droning on and on about the old house she used to live in with her reprehensible siblings…while I was contemplating driving Dad’s pen into my forehead.

It took me two years to finish the paperwork, and I ended up handing some of it off to Mom when she joined us after finding a parking place because my hand was starting to resemble Fred Sanford’s “arthuritis.”  (She signed in the places that Dad was supposed to autograph, writing a side note that read “Patient can’t see.”)  I manage to carry the informational tonnage back up to the check-in desk…and then I amble on back to wait with Mom and Dad.  And wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Sweet baby carrots, do I hate doctor appointments and the amount of time spent in waiting rooms to meet them.  I slowly start to get aggravated by two things: 1) I belatedly notice a sign on the TV that read “Please ask receptionist to change the channel” (Me to Mom: “I wish I had seen that before I sat down”) and b) the fact that people who have entered the waiting room after we arrived have already been called for their appointments.  Noticing on her watch that it’s 10:15am, I announce to Mom that I’m going to find out what the holdup is, and all she can tell me is “Please don’t be rude.”  (She’s seen this rerun before, though my sister Kat usually plays my part.)

Do you remember that scene in Lost in America where Albert Brooks is trying to cadge a bridal suite out of the hotel clerk?  (“Listen, I'm not very good at this.  I don't get good seats in shows because of this problem.  I don't get good tables in restaurants.  I've really never been good at this particular kind of exchange of money so, how much do you want?”)  That’s me whenever I have to win friends and influence customer service people—I suck at baksheesh, but I was prepared to offer the receptionist a hefty bribe because the TV was now blaring The Doctors and I was inches away from going postal on all the sick people in the waiting room.  The receptionist was very nice, explaining that the appointment was for 10:15—they just asked my folks to be there at 9:30 for ample time to do the paperwork.  (And she wasn’t just whistlin’ Dixie.)  She assures me it won’t be much longer.

They finally call my father’s name.  Mom says to me, “Wheel him up to the physician’s assistant and then come on back.”  Well, apparently the P.A.’s job description does not include being the motor for a wheelchair, because I involuntarily accompanied him when she asked him to step on the scale, took his temperature and blood pressure, and then showed him to an examination room.  I didn’t really mind too much, however, because now I didn’t have to listen to that nonsense blaring from the waiting room TV.  But the doc didn’t come in to see my father until a little after eleven.  (That’s when I knew we’d be stopping by some place with a drive-thru for lunch.)

The doctor was a very nice lady (nice laaaady!) who referred to my father as “my darling”—which meant I had to stifle a snicker because there’s a Publix cashier who says that to Mom all the time.  In retrospect, going along with Dad proved to be a wise decision because once we had returned home (we had McDonald’s) Mom asked him what the doctor had to say and he replies (get this): “Nothing much.”  (Oooh, you big fibber.)  I corrected the record on that score, which ticked him off a little.

So, I spent most of Monday morning enduring the horror that is the U.S. healthcare system, and because we spent more time than we had budgeted (Mom was pissed because the lady at the primary physician’s office told her the appointment was for 9:30—so we were there way too friggin’ early) Mom and I had to venture out a second time to swing by Kroger Nation because she needed a few things.  By the time we finished that errand, it was 2:30pm…and I had decided ta heck wid it, I’d work on Tuesday’s blog entry on Tuesday.

Cue the wacky closing theme.  Seacrest out!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Buried Treasures: Danger Street (1947)


Pat Marvin (Jane Withers) is a shutterbug for Flick (“The magazine that’s there when it happens”) …but she may not be employed there much longer.  Larry Burke (Robert Lowery), the editor of Flick—and Pat’s platonic boyfriend—has received notice from the magazine’s owner, “Muscle-Bustle” Turlock (Paul Harvey), that he’s selling the publication due to poor circulation.  Burke has ambitious ideas to make the mag a success, but they’ve all been dismissed by Turlock as “too lurid” …so when his boss announces he’s got a buyer who’ll give him $26,000 Larry ups the ante to twenty-seven grand.  By pooling his own funds, borrowing from every friend he has, and inviting several Flick employees to join what we might call a “co-op,” Burke is still some $2700 short.  Flick’s accountant, Henry (Lorin Raker), volunteers the rest of the start-up funds provided Larry can pay him back by the first of the month.

Larry and Pat soon learn why Henry requested that specific payback: the bookkeeper gambled that Flick’s books would be audited at the first of the month and so he embezzled the money from the magazine itself…but to his dismay, the auditors will be in to check out the accounts in a couple of days.  No worries, says Larry; he’s assigned a photographer (Eddie Parks…in blackface, sadly) to take a few candids of heiress Cynthia Van Loan (Elaine Riley), a wealthy socialite who’s been quite adept at avoiding the paparazzi.  When Joe returns to Flick with his camera smashed, Larry is forced to revert to Plan B: he and Pat will pose as servants during a swanky reception affair to take covert snaps…and sell the pictures to rival editor Jack Withers for enough money to keep Henry from making new friends in the pokey.

"Don't tell me what to do!"  TDOY fave Will Wright has a meatier part in this "Two Dollar Bills" effort, playing the cop investigating the case.
Larry is successful getting pictures at the party…but during the evening, he snaps a photo of Cynthia’s fiancé, Carl Pauling (Charles Quigley), canoodling with a woman who’s not Ms. Van Loan.  Pauling tries to get the photo back but Burke informs him it’s been sold to Withers.  When Larry and Pat stop by Withers’ office to pick up their check…they find that Jack has succumbed to a severe case of dead, aggravated by lead bullets.

Jane Withers and Robert Lowery in Danger Street (1947)
At the time Danger Street (1947) was released, the publicity department at Paramount proudly promoted the film as the first “grown-up role” for Jane Withers, a child actress whose appearance in a 1934 Shirley Temple vehicle, Bright Eyes, led to subsequent roles in her own starring motion pictures at Fox including Paddy O’Day (1935) and Little Miss Nobody (1936).  Around Rancho Yesteryear, I jokingly refer to Janie as “the poor man’s Shirley Temple” even though I’d rather sit down with a Withers film any day of the week.  (Paramount, by the way, didn’t get the newsletter that Jane’s previous picture, Affairs of Geraldine [1946], had her character sashaying down the matrimonial aisle…and not as a child bride, I hasten to add.)  Withers (who turned 91 this April—way to go, Jane!) later made appearances in such films as Giant (1956) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) but was primarily a fixture on the small screen in guest-star turns on TV series like Bachelor Father and The Munsters, and as the longtime pitchwoman for Comet cleanser, Josephine the Plumber.

"Lieutenant Jacoby! What the... ?" Character great Herschel Bernardi has a bit role as the guy what monitors the front door to the gambling den.
Maybe Danger Street isn’t Withers’ first “grown-up role” but as Pat Marvin, she’s sensational in this B-picture quickie—another quality production from “The Two Dollar Bills,” William H. Pine and William C. Thomas.  Pat’s plucky and resourceful, as evidenced in the opening minutes of Street where she’s mingling undercover at a notorious gambling den, taking pictures (including that of a respected politician, played by character veteran Harry Cheshire) that will become the basis of a layout for an “exclusive” Flick exposé.  When her cover is blown, she hauls ass and elbows out to her car for a quick getaway…but the mansion in which the gambling takes place is surrounded by a security fence, and the gate is shut tight by the operators of the den.  This does not deter Marvin, as she drives straight through in a manner that would have any male action star remarking: “Hey—run that back again, will ya?!!”

My girl Nina Mae McKinney also appears in Danger Street as a cook...with character fave Guy Wilkerson as a caretaker.
It’s mere coinky-dink that Robert Lowery co-stars in Danger Street—we just heard from him yesterday in Big Town (1947), and he’s still in the publishing game—and I was as surprised as anyone to observe that he’s not only quite good as Larry Burke, his understated romance with Pat is kind of sweet, too.  (You really become concerned about the pair when their backs are up against the wall to replace the funds filched by Henry.)  Because the indefatigable Lyle Talbot also has a small role in this movie, I asked myself at one point: “What is this, a Lippert film?”  The supporting cast in Danger Street may be second-tier but doesn’t disappoint…well, maybe except for Bill Edwards, who plays an ex-lover of Cynthia’s and one of the suspects when her skeevy intended is croaked later in the film.  (How Edwards ever maintained a motion picture career is a mystery to me…though in his defense, he’s not entirely unhandsome.)

With a story and screenplay by Winston Miller and Kae Salkow (and an assist from Maxwell Shane) and direction by one of the true programmer giants, Lew Landers, Danger Street starts out as an engaging romantic comedy-drama and manages to maintain that exciting, enjoyable tone even after the bodies start piling up.   At 64 minutes, it’s breezy entertainment even if the resolution to the mystery (Withers’ Marvin has all the suspects gathered while she announces she’s going to produce a photograph of the guilty party) is a little gimmicky and forced.  Alpha Video released this one to DVD this August (thanks to Brian Krey for the screener) and it’s just how I like my B-movies: unpretentious and highly pleasurable.  Well worth your time, cartooners!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Buried Treasures: Big Town (1947)


Back in April, I did a write-up for Big Town After Dark (1947) as one of the blog’s “Overlooked Films on Tuesdays”—After Dark being the third film in a B-picture franchise lensed by independent producers William Pine and William C. Thomas (a.k.a. “The Two Dollar Bills”) and released through Paramount.  The film series was inspired by the popular radio program Big Town, which originally starred Edward G. Robinson from 1937 to 1942, and resurrected after a season’s hiatus in the fall of 1943 with Edward Pawley in the Eddie G. role.

I caught Big Town After Dark as one of the entries in the “Vault” section of Epix’s On Demand offerings on a “freeview” occasion…the path to seeing the first film in the franchise, Big Town (1947), was a different one.  I splurged on some Alpha Video DVDs from Oldies.com some time back, and one of the discs was Big Town Collection—which not only featured the inaugural film but a pair of “lost” episodes of the TV version of Big Town, viewed over CBS and then NBC between 1950 and 1956.  (Reruns from the CBS run also aired on the DuMont network from February-Jul 1953 under the title City Assignment.)  Since placing that order, Oldies.com has “bundled” Collection with two other DVDs, one with Big Town After Dark and the other Big Town Scandal (1948; though it’s billed by its alternate title, Underworld Scandal).  I should have waited to place my order until the bundle became available from Alpha (it was released in May); I could have purchased this set in lieu of that collection of Bela Lugosi silents that featured the terrible Daughter of the Night (1920).  (As my Facebook compadre Christopher Snowden remarked: “Ah, the price we pay for free shipping...”)
caught

Since Big Town kicks off the four-movie franchise, it functions as sort of an “origin” tale of how Steve Wilson (Philip Terry) came to assume the managing editorship of The Illustrated Press.  Hired by owner Amos Peabody (Charles Arnt) to revive the flagging periodical, Wilson adopts a sensationalistic tone with regards to the Press to boost circulation, taking advantage of such “hot” stories as a shootout at a local theatre (the culprit is a female sharpshooter, played by Veda Ann Borg) and a tragic roller coaster accident at a shoddily-run amusement park.  (The amusement park expose is later “spiked” to appease the park’s owner, a major advertiser—things haven’t changed a great deal in seventy years, as you can see.)  Wilson constantly finds himself at odds with reporter Lorelei Kilbourne (Hillary Brooke), whose idealism envisions a newspaper that crusades on behalf of the public good; she’s furious at Steve when he kills the amusement park story, in addition to an earlier occasion in which he goes behind her back and assigns a story to fellow reporter Pete Ryan (Robert Lowery) because she’s too close to the folks involved (a woman is found dead in a state senator’s hotel room, and Wilson insists on smearing the victim to sell papers).  Finally, a series of “vampire” murders prompts Lorelei and Pete to part ways with the Press when they’re convinced the suspect in the killings (Byron S. Barr) is innocent…and Wilson insists he’s guilty.

Phillip Reed, Hillary Brooke, and Robert Lowery
A movie that packs a good deal of crime action with a small dollop of social commentary, Big Town was every bit as enjoyable as the previously-viewed Big Town After Dark.  I’m not a fan of actor Robert Lowery (even though I’ve seen him in too many venues to count—the latest was a repeat of Tales of Wells Fargo, in which he was older and heavier…and still not resembling Clark Gable in any way possible) but I thought he was pretty damn good as Ryan, a cynic who rises to the occasion and follows Lorelei out the door when he, too, is fed up with Wilson’s handling of the paper. Hillary Brooke is, of course, always welcome in the House of Yesteryear (I particularly like how Lorelei's no longer having to be the Press’ society columnist), and as for Reed…well, I liked him much more in this movie than Big Town than After Dark only because he wasn’t afraid to play a guy who’s a little on the wankerish side.  Producer Thomas directed this one himself, from a screenplay by Geoffrey Holmes (a.k.a. Daniel Mainwaring), who co-wrote the story with Maxwell Shane (Fear in the Night).  It’s a shame these films weren’t better taken care of—the Alpha Video version (under its TV title, Guilty Assignment) looks as if it were rode hard and put up wet.  That’s why this screen capture…


…of MISTER John Dehner (who has a small role as the friend of Wilson’s on the train in the first few minutes of the film) isn’t as pristine as it should be…and why it’s hard to make out at first who this other old-time radio veteran is…


…it’s Will Wright, who has a few lines as a sardonic train employee observing Wilson’s attempts to contact his newspaper.  (Future Pink Panther director Blake Edwards also has a bit in this movie as a reporter named “Nixon.”)

Mark Stevens & Trudy Wroe
While Big Town was still drawing huge radio audiences every week, the decision was made to transition the show to TV screens, and in October of 1950, folks who had invested in those newfangled sets could watch a visual version of Big Town starring Patrick McVey in the Steve Wilson role.  The TV Big Town went through actresses portraying Lorelei like a box of tissues, however; from 1950 to 1954, Mary K. Wells, Julie Stevens, Jane Nigh, and Beverly Tyler all took turns playing Wilson’s girl Friday.  Big Town was telecast live from New York in its first two seasons (1950-52) but a move to Hollywood in April of 1952 prompted a switch to film.  The show moved to NBC in the fall of 1954 with Mark Stevens inheriting the part of Steve from McVey and a new Lorelei in Trudy Wroe; Stevens would play Wilson for two seasons but Wroe’s Lorelei vanished after a year on NBC and was replaced by a new love interest for Steve, a commercial artist named Diane Walker (played by Doe Avedon).  Other regulars on the show at one time included city editor Charlie Anderson (Barry Kelley) and Lt. Tom Gregory (John Docuette).

Stevens, Wroe, and Kelley are in the two episodes that accompany the 1947 film in Big Town Collection (though Wroe is only glimpsed briefly in the first); the first one on the disc, “The Lovers” (02/14/55), has an old high school friend of Steve’s murdered by an intruder in her home…and suspicion pointing to her husband (Willard Sage).  The only item of interest in this flaccid effort is that the episode was directed by Busby Berkeley (yes—that Busby Berkeley), whose trademark overhead musical shots find no purchase in a TV series that by that time was content to imitate the no-nonsense cinematography style of Dragnet.  The close-ups in these two episodes are off the rails, and the overall “true stories” tone of Big Town seems more suited to the radio/TV series The Big Story, with star Stevens intoning at the end of each show: “The story you have just seen is based on factual account…only the names of the people and cities have been changed to protect the right of privacy.”  (This episode was penned by the prolific Alvin Boretz and Wolf Man director george waGGner.)

The second show on the Collection DVD is actually the show from the previous week (02/07/55)—“The Sniper.”  This one is a good little effort (written and directed by waGGner), in which a cop is brought down by a sniper who apparently went after his target from the roof of The Illustrated Press building…and the clues to the culprit’s identity include a broken pair of sunglasses belonging to a commercial artist.  This one is really first-rate because it’s packed to the rafters with TDOY character favorites:


Dabbs Greer as the cop on the case…


Ann Doran as the cop’s widow (she does some outstanding work here)…


Jean Byron as the artist…


…and Keye Luke as the elevator operator.  (You thought I was kidding about the close-ups, didn’t you?)  There’s also this bit of hilarity that, admittedly, I’m probably the only person who’d laugh at it—Wilson pokes through an industrialist’s (Chick Chandler) locker at his golf club…


…and seeing the glass, announces it will be of interest to cop Greer.  (And that bar of Lux soap will be of major interest to the show’s sponsor.)  Lever Brothers continued their radio sponsorship on the TV version (the two shows feature original commercials for Rinso Blue and Good Luck Margarine) with a tag team by AC Spark Plugs (the ads for which feature character veteran Frank Albertson as the Press’ automotive reporter, “Jim Roberts”).  The TV Big Town is certainly nothing to race to the DVR to grab and keep, but I found it an amusing way to kill an hour (though the Steve Wilson character seems more like a cop than a managing editor—that was strange).

Big Town must have had problems with its creditors because in addition to being retitled City Assignment for its DuMont run (the series was still running new shows on CBS at that same time) the show also went by Heart of the City (the McVey episodes), Headline (the 1954-55 Stevens episodes), and Byline Steve Wilson (the 1955-56 Stevens episodes).  When you compound this with the multiple aliases used when the Pine-Thomas movies aired on TV (Big Town went by Guilty Assignment; I Cover Big Town [1947] as I Cover the Underworld; Big Town After Dark as Underworld After Dark, and Big Town Scandal as Underworld Scandal) it makes you a little hesitant to lend any of the Illustrated Press reporters any money till payday (I suspect the titles of the movies were changed to avoid confusion with the still-airing TV series).

Friday, August 25, 2017

Crime will not pay…not for a while, anyway…


Apologies for all the sawdust on the blog floor…but that’s kind of the reason why I don’t have an installment of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s weekly dissection into the MGM Crime Does Not Pay shorts ready.  I’ve been working like a madman (mahd, I tell you!) transferring much of the content from TDOY’s soon-to-be-boarded-up Blogspot environs to our brand-spanking-new home at WordPress…and I don’t mind telling you, it ain’t half tedious mum.  To shake things up a little, I’ve been adding new images to some of the old posts in a sort-of-refurbishing fashion, and that’s probably why the transferring hasn’t gone as swiftly as I’d like.

Because I tend to become obsessed with the quick completion of projects that deep down, I know will take some time (I’ve sought professional help for this…nothing can be done, sadly), it was imperative that I take stock in what tasks needed to get done and assign them a certain priority.  Not only do I have to budget time to watch the movies, TV shows, etc. to write about them for this blog…but I’m also administrating the Radio Spirits blog (and I got a recent liner note assignment—which, upon hearing that news, prompted my creditors to crack open a few bottles of bubbly) and helping here in the House of Yesteryear whenever I can.  After making a list—and checking it twice—I concluded that Crime Does Not Pay needed a little vacation from TDOY.  I know the CDNP posts seem simple (because they’re written by someone who’s the same), but a lot of time is expended in watching each short, transcribing dialogue, and whipping up screen grabs.  Oh, and writing the jokes.  (Don’t think I didn’t hear the smart guy in the third row asking: “What jokes?”  I’m going to keep an eye on you.)

Since I’m duplicate-posting at both the old and new sites until the official transition takes hold in October, I decided to put Crime Does Not Pay on hiatus.  This was not an easy decision to make—I realize that my blogmother S.Z. (founder of/alumnus at World O’Crap) looks upon these weekly CDNP entries as kind of an online course in Crime 101 (which made me very proud…she was seriously considering University of Phoenix), so if there’s a spike in the crime rate in the Western United States region I implore you to contact the authorities immediately.

I’m going to take the sting out of this devastating news (okay—maybe it’s not that devastating) by giving you a bit o’news that my Radio Spirits compatriot Rodney Bowcock posted on Facebook yesterday…


…this is an actual thing; Amazon.com is announcing a November 7, 2017 release date for Charley Chase: The Hal Roach Talkies Volume 1 1930-31.  The product details say this is a VCI release (you can’t pre-order this yet) but I’m wondering if this is affiliated with The Sprocket Vault considering they’re bringing this to Blu-ray (and the YouTube video below was e-mailed to me from the Sprocket Vault’s channel):


The information I have on the Chase shorts is very sketchy—I’m hoping Richard M. Roberts has additional skinny on this, and can fill in the necessary details—but suffice it to say, I am stoked beyond description learning about this development.  Oddly enough, when Rodney mentioned this on Facebook he was immediately beset by folks who either a) expressed skepticism (though a couple of "Chaseologists" immediately squelched these naysayers), or 2) complained about having already grabbed them from The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™.  Oh, and the usual whines about whether they would be restored.  I will not speak for anyone but myself when I say that not only will I wholeheartedly support this release and subsequent releases (knock wood) but I will wag my finger disapprovingly at anyone who starts in with the pissing and moaning.  We’ve been wanting these on DVD for a very, very, very, very, very long time…and whether it’s VCI or The Sprocket Vault or a combination or both I say good on them for rising to the task.

Charley and Thelma! (From All Teed Up.)
Back on Monday—have a great weekend, cartooners!

(Addendum: Richard M. Roberts to the rescue!)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"To something new!"


Returning to stately Osterna Castle after two years of being abroad, Graf (Count) Greven exhibits a demeanor vastly different than his pre-travel behavior.  He instructs his staff to put Osterna on lockdown, because for unexplained reasons he’s quite paranoid and fearful—with no explanation forthcoming.  His faithful manservant (Bernhard Goetzke) contacts a minister (Hermann Picha) who was Greven’s teacher in happier times, and asks him to consider the matter of his master’s melancholia.

Greven tells the minister via flashback that while in India, he filched a statue of Buddha from the Temple of Djaba…because as a collector of rare antiquities, the Count has been mesmerized by the accounts that the magnificent idol possesses mystical healing powers.  He’s wracked with guilt about his deed, however, and is convinced that the priests of that temple are after him, seeking vengeance.  The minister and the manservant, however, are convinced that the cheese has slid off Greven’s cracker.

Later that night, Greven is visited by the temple’s High Priest (Conrad Veidt).  He reacts as you or I would in that situation, emptying a gun into the mystic…but the bullets have no effect.  Greven demands that the priest take his life right that instant…but the mysterious figure replies that he will not, because it has little value to Greven.  He’ll return in seven years to exact the penalty for the theft.  Awakening in his bed with a start, the Count thinks that maybe it was all a nightmare…and then he finds a note attached to the precious statue: “Do not forget…today, seven days hence!” 

German director Robert Wiene is recognized by cinema devotees as one of the major figures in expressionist film, with his best-known work—The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)—often cited as one of the first important horror films.  His 1917 feature Fear (Fürcht) isn’t quite as audacious as Caligari, but coming as early as it did in his film career it demonstrates that Wiene was able to work magic with even the simplest of plots.  Fear also teamed the director with actor Conrad Veidt for the first (the film is purportedly Veidt’s earliest surviving work) of several collaborations including Caligari and The Hands of Orlac (1924).

Conrad Veidt in Fear (1917, a.k.a. Fürcht)
Fear arrived in the House of Yesteryear via an August DVD release from Alpha Video (thanks to Brian Krey for the screener).  Despite some nitpicks, I found it an enjoyable viewing experience—chiefly due to Joseph Martin’s eerie, goose-pimply score.  Veidt, the character great who would later grace such silents as The Beloved Rogue {1927) and The Man Who Laughs (1928), doesn’t have a great deal of screen time in Fear but nevertheless is a most menacing and unforgettable manifestation—one that may or may not be a figment of Greven’s imagination.  I think the movie would have been better served if Veidt’s priest had been a constant presence; when Greven gets his seven-year reprieve (reminiscent of Jabez Stone in The Devil and Daniel Webster), the tension of Fear lags a bit.  But Veidt’s “spirit” more than makes up for his absence in the movie’s final moments; as the horror blog The Devil’s Manor noted in 2011, “Thanks to Veidt, simple double-exposure shots of the spectral priest walking through the castle's hallways look far more creepy than they ought to.”

I wish Wiene (he wrote as well as directed) had made the Greven character in Fear a bit more sympathetic.  It’s hard to empathize with the Count’s plight—he begins his seven years drinking, dancing, and generally letting the good times roll—when his expressed purpose in life while waiting for the Priest’s return is “drain[ing] the cup of happiness to the last dregs!”  (Clearly a Maxwell House man.)  The final section of Greven’s marking off time is spent in the company of a woman (Mechthildis Thein) with whom he’s fallen in love…but I can’t help but get the impression that she was shoehorned into the script only to emphasize the irony at the movie’s end (the Priest decrees that Greven will perish at the hand who he holds dearest).  The relationship between the two should have been focused on more, so that the bittersweet conclusion would have packed a bit more punch.


Now, the (always reliable) IMDb notes that the running time of Fear is 72 minutes (at 18 fps) and the Alpha version is considerably truncated (running 54 minutes).  That might explain my dissatisfaction with the romance angle. I found Fear a most entertaining movie, particularly since I’m a very enthusiastic fan of Conrad Veidt’s work…though admittedly, I’m probably more familiar with his later character turns in American features like Whistling in the Dark (1941—“We part in radiant contentment”) and Casablanca (1942).  Sadly, Veidt would be felled by a heart attack during a game of golf in April 1943 while his valedictory film, Above Suspicion (1943), was released a month later.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

“You stole the only thing I ever loved—now…”


Since he’s in arrears to the Secure Finance and Loan Company, young Toby Locke (Matty Kemp) agrees to join the outfit as a collection agent…but learns too late that despite its official-sounding title, Secure is little more than a protection racket ruled under the iron fist of its CEO, Joe Travis (Bryant Washburn, Sr.).  The event that brings about Toby’s dissatisfaction with his career choice is the death of a client named George Marvin, who’s murdered by one of Tobe’s fellow collectors—a genial gent who answers to ‘Smiles’ Badolio (Jack La Rue).  (Mother Badolio had quite the sense of humor, it would seem.)

Toby’s got a girlfriend in Judith Avery (Betty Burgess), whose gob is positively smacked when her fiancé calls and demands that they tie the knot P.D.Q.  The nuptials are Travis’ idea; the D.A. (Edward Keene) is nosing around Joe’s company heckbent on putting the boss and his staff away on racketeering charges, and if Judith and Toby become husband and wife Judy can’t testify against her husband.  The honeymoon never gets underway, however; Toby tells the new Mrs. Locke that their marriage is merely a sham, and a despondent Judith decides to end it all by trying to beat a freight train to a railroad crossing.  (Here’s a pro-tip: in a contest between car and train…always bet on the train.)

During her convalescence, Judith becomes the object of affection for Dr. Craig Mitchell (Lloyd Hughes)—who’s so smitten with his patient he even offers her a job in his office (I would think HR would have a few things to say about that).  Judy keeps Craig at arms’ length because she’s still carrying a torch for Toby…who has problems of his own, particularly when he croaks Smiles’ brother Louie (Anthony Orlando) in the process of collecting $10,000 from a client.  (Contrary to his colorful nickname, Smiles is not pleased about the death of his brother.)

Imperial Productions, a small states’ rights independent who cranked out a lot of B-westerns in its heyday, purportedly had I Demand Payment (1938) finished and ready to release in December of 1936, according to a Film Daily article published around that time.  The reason for the delay remains to be seen, but the movie—which has seen a DVD release from Alpha Video this month—is an entertaining if not particularly remarkable little programmer.  A 1932 novel by Rob Eden, Second Choice, was adapted by Sherman L. Lowe (a journeyman scribe whose screenplays include Burn ‘Em Up Barnes [1934] and Crimson Romance [1934]) and directed/produced by Clifford Sanforth (Murder by Television [1935]).

The (always reliable) IMDb notes that Payment has a running time of 61 minutes but I clocked the Alpha version at 54.  I didn’t notice any interruptions in continuity, however.  The movie doesn’t set any lofty goals other than to amuse the viewer for that short amount of time but it boasts an impressive cast despite its independent origins.  Betty Burgess gets top billing as the lovely but prone-to-bad-judgment Judith; Burgess had made a splash in the 1935 musical Coronado but only appeared in three additional features (Payment was her penultimate) before retiring from the motion picture industry.  There was a bit o’gossip about her romance with co-star Matty Kemp (not to be confused with the Atlanta Braves fielder) that the two of them were really manacled together IRL, as the kids call it nowadays.  Kemp plays the wide-eyed innocent in Payment well, but when he’s required to become a bad guy in the second half he falls woefully short.

I’m a big fan of Jack La Rue, the actor often mistaken for Humphrey Bogart whose picture career fluctuated between high-profile films (he’s probably best known for 1932’s A Farewell to Arms and as the villain in the TDOY Pre-Code fave The Story of Temple Drake [1933[) and a slew of B-pictures.  Guinn “Big Boy” Williams provides a little comic relief as a hood named “Happy” (there’s a running gag where any loud noise causes Hap to draw his weapon as a force of habit) but he’s hampered a bit by the lack of material.  You’ve also got Lloyd Hughes (who appeared in such silents as The Sea Hawk [1924] and The Lost World [1925]) and Sheila Terry (known for appearing in early John Wayne oaters) on hand—I Demand Payment would be Terry’s cinematic swan song; she would later become a press agent before committing suicide in 1957 at the young age of 46.  (Sorry I had to end this one on a bummer.  As always, many thanks to Alpha’s Brian Krey for proving TDOY with the screener.)

Monday, August 21, 2017

We’ve lost our lease!


Sister Kat and Nephew Davis have come and gone, and their visit was both a tonic for Mom and a big surprise for Dad (Mom and I decided not to tell him of their pending arrival, and he was positively floored as a result).  I’m glad they could spend some time with us, but their visit was kind of an omen because…well, this little missive from the Google people landed in my e-mailbox last Thursday:

To owner of http://thrillingdaysofyesteryear.blogspot.com,

Starting October 2017, Chrome (version 62) will show a “NOT SECURE” warning when users enter text in a form on an HTTP page, and for all HTTP pages in Incognito mode.

If they’re anything like me (I try to avoid non-secure sites as a rule because I’m concerned about viruses) visitors to this ‘umble scrap of the blogosphere will start avoiding TDOY like a Shirley Temple film festival once this warning kicks in.  I cannot blame them, and the remedy for this dilemma seems to be moving the blog to an HTTPS site.  Many of the remedies I researched, however, involve me having to pony up some shekels for this privilege…so I have decided to go a cheaper more inexpensive route.

We’re moving to WordPress, baby!

Between now and October, members of the TDOY faithful will have the option of poring over the new blog content either here or its new address:

thrillingdaysofyesteryear.wordpress.com

I’ll be doing duplicate posts at both sites to ensure an easier transition, and then when the changes take hold in October, the WordPress TDOY will be the permanent home.  In the meantime, I’ll be moving many of the past posts (a particularly arduous task—like moving grains of beach sand with tweezers) and in fact, if you check out the new WordPress TDOY you’ll see a few posts assembled there already.

The WordPress TDOY probably won’t feature as many photos as the posts on the Blogger TDOY (I think there’s a limit at WordPress…but if I exceed it, I guess I’ll have to spend a few rubles after all) and on occasion the older posts might undergo a little editing (in one post, I mentioned that a movie was able for viewing on Hulu…so I just snipped that out) in their WordPress transition.  I’d be lying to you if I said I was really jazzed about this move (it’s going to be a lot of work…and does it look like I’m not lazy?) but I had actually been considering “shaking things up” on the blog even before I got the Google e-mail, so this is as good a way to do this as any, I suppose.  (I’ve also had a few People of Facebook tell me it’s a bit hard reading the blog on their phones, and WordPress is extremely phone-friendly.)

In conclusion: Google has now changed their motto from “Don’t be evil” to “What the hell—‘evil’ spelled backwards is ‘live’!”  Stop by my new dee-luxe apartment in the sky and say hi-dy!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Please permit us to pause…


I really hate to put the brakes on the ol’ blog while I was going great guns (more or less), but it’s going to be silent for the rest of the week.  My sister Kat is in town, and she brought along with her my favorite nephew…who’ll be occupying much of my free time here at Rancho Yesteryear.  (Kat and Mom left him with Dad and I while Mom is at her doctor’s appointment….so the old man and I are gonna get Davis a tattoo.)  Normal blogging will resume Monday, so until then—make the most of your weekend, cartooners!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"The appalling thing about fascism is that you've got to use fascist methods to get rid of it."


After the retreat of the British armed forces from Dunkirk, Britain was invaded by Germany in July of 1940…and though the Brits initially put up a stiff struggle, the Hun eventually stymied The Resistance and restored law and order to Old Blighty.  In 1944, World War II is still in progress but with German troops badly needed among the Ural Mountains front, control of Britain has been handed over to local volunteers who have thrown in with the German Army and the SS.

Pauline (Pauline Murray) is an Irish-born nurse who’s been evacuated from her rural village by the Germans and their collaborators and relocated to London; in the process, several of her friends are shot and killed in the crossfire resulting from a battle between the “relocators” and a group of British partisans.  Pauline is apolitical when it comes to choosing sides in the conflict, but she’s seething with anger at the needless death of her friends…and once arriving in London, learns that she’ll have to join the Immediate Action Organization (IAO) if she wants to continue nursing.  The effects of the IAO’s indoctrination quickly take hold of Pauline, and she begins to exhibit traces of fascism in her behavior despite the efforts of an old friend—Dr. Richard Fletcher (Sebastian Shaw)—to dispel her of such dangerous notions.

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear hero Kevin Brownlow
The “what if?” scenario of It Happened Here (1966)—the title is a nod to the classic Sinclair Lewis novel It Can’t Happen Here—was dreamed up by 18-year-old Kevin Brownlow in 1956, years before Brownlow achieved immortality as a film historian with such books as The Parade’s Gone By and documentaries on the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, D.W. Griffith, and Lon Chaney.  Kevin collaborated with 16-year-old Andrew Mollo, a history buff (who later plied that interest into becoming a historian himself) who provided immeasurable help in insuring that their film was pin-point accurate in its authenticity.  (Mollo had been collecting German uniforms and equipment from flea markets for years, and the two blokes eventually hooked up with another collector who owned an impressive cache of Nazi arms and vehicles—all stored at his country residence.)  The amateur production took many years to finish (Brownlow and Mollo would have to suspend filming whenever the money ran out) but with an assist from directors Stanley Kubrick (who loaned them film stock from Dr. Strangelove) and Tony Richardson (who ponied up funds to finish the production) the film was completed in time for a premiere at the Cork Film Festival in September 1964.

The fascinating history of the making of It Happened Here is detailed in a book written by Brownlow that was published in 1968 (How It Happened Here), so I’ll hold back on this aspect of the movie only to say that it’s truly a masterpiece of independent filmmaking.  Its black-and-white, cinema verité style is so starkly realistic (Brownlow didn’t use any actual newsreel footage for the movie…including the scene where the film’s heroine is watching a newsreel) I had to remind myself a couple of times that the movie is complete fiction.  But the message of the film—that fascism can kick off its shoes and make itself to home under any set of normal circumstances—is a powerful one…and one that prompted more than a few critics at the time of its release to condemn the film, believing that the filmmakers were espousing that philosophy.  When United Artists agreed to release the film for American audiences in 1966, they insisted on the excision of a six-minute sequence where IAO fascists discuss their support for euthanasia where Jews are concerned.

That sequence would later be restored to the finished product when Brownlow regained the rights to It Happened Here thirty years later, and the entirety of the film is available on DVD from Milestone Films—a familiar name here on the blog responsible for such DVD offerings as In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914) and The Connection (1961).  Milestone is currently having a “Dog Days of Summer” sale at their website, with select DVDs going for $10-15 and Blu-rays at $20.  Ordinarily, I’d snatch up every Milestone release that I don’t already own during such an event…but because the fundage situation at Rancho Yesteryear continues to be a bleak one I could only afford one selection, and It Happened Here made the cut.  (You’ll find several of their releases that have been reviewed here on the blog for sale, including Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room.)

The first reel of It Happened Here is a little rough in the audio/visual department, but once you’re past that I think you’ll be blown away by how splendid the production is despite its microbudget.  Because it was a shoestring operation, Brownlow and Rollo had to rely on a lot of amateur talent save for a few professionals like Sebastian Shaw, Reginald Marsh (“Sir” from The Good Life/Good Neighbors), and Fiona Leland.  Pauline Murray, who plays the nurse (also named “Pauline Murray”), was a bit intimidated (despite having appeared in an earlier movie in 1948) about performing alongside those accomplished performers as Brownlow related in The Independent:

Pauline Murray in a scene from the film
We realised we had that rarest of creatures, a natural actress...towards the end of the film, when she found herself playing opposite seasoned professionals like Sebastian Shaw and Fiona Leland, she wrote to me after seeing the rushes; "Sebastian and Fiona seemed alive, real people and I look like a vicious moron.  If we hadn't got so far, I'd say get someone else.  I honestly feel the lack of expression on my face is disastrous and could ruin the whole thing for you."  Fortunately, we could see what she couldn't—that in her restraint lay her strength.  For Pauline Murray was the film.

Pauline Murray, despite the naturalness that works so well in It Happened Here (she’s really a most appealing heroine), never appeared in another movie (though she did dabble in community theatre).  Brownlow and Mollo’s feature film is a true marvel and hey—at 10 bucks, it’s a bargain from Milestone.  Buy it.  I have spoken.