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Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970)
"The Way It is" ISN"T the way it WAS!
Sadly, some people feel that they know better than the director how a film should be. Since director Denis Sanders is now deceased, he cannot comment on the "special edition" DVD of his film, which basically removes the heart and soul from his movie--the people who loved Elvis and made him the phenomenon that he was (and still is, for that matter!) I have no problem with creating a concert-only version-the concert footage is superb and shows Elvis at one of the high-points in his career; just a few years before his death, but before his sad decline. It's great fun to watch him rehearse and horse around. However, it seems wrong to me to palm this off on the public as the film "Elvis: That's the Way it Is" when much of the footage has been removed! Denis Sanders wanted to show several aspects of Elvis World, reaching from the kitchen of the International Hotel all the way to Luxembourg. To be able to view the original version, I had to wait until an aging Laserdisc came available for purchase and then I realized how removing the non-Elvis material lessened the importance of the film, as the documenting of an important cultural icon. Hopefully, someone at Warner Home Video will realize the error of this and make BOTH versions available, if for nothing else than to right the wrong done to the film's director.
Midnight at the Old Mill (1916)
Digging up the dead with Ham & Bud
Ham and Bud will never be given the accolades that Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, or even Clark & McCullough have garnered. Their comedy is from a much different time, before the coming of Hal Roach and a more "sophisticated" form of slapstick. And while they may lack subtlety, and their laugh-making power has somewhat diminished, I find their films quite enjoyable, much more than contemporary Keystone comedies of the same era. "Midnight at the Old Mill" has some nice "Guignol" touches with mysterious doctors in black and Ham having to play a corpse at one moment. In a rather fancy touch, the original nitrate release prints have the outdoor scenes (at the Old Mill) tinted a dark blue. So it seems that Kalem thought a bit more of this outing than some other Ham & Bud films to go to the added expense of tinting. 8mm prints of this film were made available by Blackhawk Films many years ago, and occasionally show up on eBay, which is where I found mine!
The Blundering Blacksmiths (1917)
Ham and Bud, but mostly Ham
Lloyd Hamilton became one of the most popular silent comics of the late twenties, largely forgotten today due to the dearth of available films, coupled with his early death in 1935. His incarnation as "Ham" was his first popular character, a fairly disheveled tramp figure. After parting with Bud Duncan, Hamilton developed the "meek" character that he became associated with. This entry in the series kind of hints at things to come as "Ham" is definitely the "star" while "Bud" is shoved into the background. It also dates near the end of the series. The story goes that after the end of "Ham & Bud," Lloyd Hamilton would have little or nothing to do with Bud Duncan.
This film does have a fairly coherent story and a funny boxing scene at the end, making it a fairly good Ham & Bud outing, one that can hold up to repeated viewings. Blackhawk Films released this on 8mm "back in the day"--heaven know where you might find it now.
Mary's Merry Mix-Up (1917)
A Delightful Romp!
This funny and charming film took me totally by surprise. Supposedly "ghosted" by Al Christie for Strand Comedies, it is a clever domestic comedy, devoid of any of the all-too-common "slapstick trappings", such as baggy pants, bricks, and pies. In fact, it seems rather mature for being made in 1917. Jay Belasco plays his part of the bewildered boyfriend and husband with aplomb and his fits of controlled rage are classic. The second half of the film is devoted to a great sequence where Jay keeps changing his appearance for different members of his new family: sideburns for Brother, moustache for Father and bushy eyebrows for Mother. He does this using a pair of paste-on mutton chop sideburns acquired from a roving film crew. Blackhawk Films did release this on 8mm way back when, so if you can find a copy, take a chance on it. It's a shame that Belasco & Rhodes didn't do many comedies together; they made a good pairing, although this film is completely Belasco's.
Busy Bodies (1933)
My Introduction to Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy
'Round about 1971, when I was nine, my dad brought home a projector from school and some 16mm films from the public library. One of those films was "Busy Bodies" and the antics of Stan and Ollie hooked me immediately. This has to rank as one of their finest, since it is just THEM, no silly romantic subplots or intrusive musical numbers: just twenty minutes of unrelenting mayhem. Before taking my nephew, who is the same age now as I was then, to a Sons of the Desert meeting, I showed him "Busy Bodies" and now he has the same interest in L&H as I did (and still do!). Thanks Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy--you made the world a little better place.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
A Blast from my past!
This is one of the first films I remember seeing in the theater,
away back in 1968--I would've been five or six. The friends I went
with afterwards named their new poodle "Truly Scrumptious!" Well,
some 30+ years later and it has not lost any of its charm--a fun
movie "for the entire family", as it were. In retrospect, it is quite a
dark tale, which may be explained by Roald Dahl's name as one of
the scriptwriters. Robert Helpmann's wonderfully oily turn as the
Child Catcher is still creepy and Benny Hill is, well, Benny Hill!
Gert Frobe is silly and malevolent as the Ruler of Vulgaria, and his
number with Anna Quayle is a sadistic treat. Funny, I did notice
that when I was five...The songs by the unstoppable Sherman
Bros. and the kinetic energy of Dick Van Dyke make this a real
treat. SADLY, the DVD has only been released in a PAN & SCAN
format, utterly destroying some of the nicest widescreen
compositions ever. If you can find it, grab the MGM/UA Laserdisc!!
The Struggle (1931)
A Last Hurrah
By the time he made this film, Hollywood had D.W. Griffith right where they wanted him; a broken man. His studio was gone and he was selling out his UA shares--to make this film, I think. It's a shame that things went so wrong for him at this time, for it is evident in "The Struggle" that he was figuring out how to use this new sound gizmo. I was very impressed by his use of sound, almost Altman-like at times with overlapping dialogues. But, sadly, Hollywood had moved beyond DW, and didn't need or want him around anymore. This film is not the calibre of "Broken Blossoms" or "Intolerance", but it's a fine effort on a small scale from one of filmdom's greats.
Run, Girl, Run (1928)
Only for Carol(e) [and Daphne!]
This little two-reeler manages to insult overweight people and African-Americans before the first reel is over! One of the "gags" concerns Daphne Pollard, as the track team coach, hunting for Carole down in "Cupid's Alley", the local make-out spot. She approaches one car with dark windows and flings the door open to reveal a black man, seen earlier as a handyman, sitting in the car with half a dozen live chickens. He does a huge "I'm caught" double take. Ouch. The film's only interest is that Carole Lombard is in it. She and Daphne Pollard make quite an unusual team--coming from complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Sadly, by the time this film was made, the Sennett Studio had pretty much run out of steam.
Bleck! What a waste of hard drive space.
Before I saw this film, a friend mentioned that if all the fart jokes were removed, the film would be about five minutes long. I figured, he being the cynical fellow he is, that he was kidding. He wasn't. John Lassiter and the folks at Pixar have nothing to fear from the adolescents that crafted this "thing". Possibly one of the worst films I have ever seen, made all the worse by people telling me how great it is. This may have started out as a great script--it is a great premise and Wm. Steig has always been one of my favorite cartoonist/authors. It seems that somewhere along the line "the powers that be" decided it needed to be "pepped up" a bit and wherever there wasn't a funny bit (which is most of the film, come to think of it), a fart, or a reference to a fart or a bodily fluid or odor would be added. Even "Monty Python & the Holy Grail" or "Blazing Saddles" had more restraint! I notice that an entry for Shrek 2 has been posted. Swell. Now they can use all the fart jokes they left out last time.
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
A Real Independent Film
In this day of "so called" independent film making, the majority of
which is backed by big studio money and ruined by the meddling
of "suits", it's so refreshing to see a truly independent film! "Gone
In 60 Seconds" was written, produced, directed and distributed by
the same man, H.B. Halicki, who also stars AND did most of the
stunt driving! This is truly a film the likes of which we will never see
again, thanks to our over-protective, sue-happy, society of wimps
and victims. Several comments are made about the acting in this
film. I would say that for none of the cast being professionals, they
handled themselves very well. And as for this being Halicki's first
film as a director, he must've known a few things and/or had some
great tech people working with him because the film is cut
together so wonderfully. Then too there is the sheer guilty
pleasure of see cars obliterated. I wish I could've seen this on the
big screen. So, if you're looking for a film with a lot of meaning,
skip this one. If you just want to enjoy a well crafted little film, and
see lots of Plymouth police cars get crunched--run out and get
GONE IN 60 SECONDS (but drive safely, please)!