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WE WELL RECALL those halcyon days of 1950's television, when any old
thing could find its way on to the tiny screen in your living room.
Among these, we were treated to the SCRAPPY Cartoon series from
Columbia Pictures' SCREEN GEMS Animation.
INASMUCH AS WE were just grade-schoolers then, we probably weren't expected to understand all of those topical, "adult" gags; nor the be able to recognize and identify the then current political leaders as they were caricatured in THE WORLD'S AFFAIR. Save for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, we didn't. Thanks to our Mother (Bertha Fuerst Ryan) we were educated about the rest.
THE SHORT SUBJECT did manage to move along at a rather brisk clip. Although there was very little plot, the shot's rapid fire vignettes into subject matters such as Art, Architecture, Agriculture and Science rendered us unaware of it. We would have to classify it as a "Clothesline" cartoon; by which it is meant that as soon as they had 8 or 10 gags, an opening and closing-they were done.
THESE B & W 1930's cartoons were a staple on the old GARFIELD GOOSE & FRIENDS afternoon kids' show on Channel 9, WGN TV in Chicago. It was created and hosted by Frazier Thomas; who often did his own voice overs in edition to that on the film's soundtrack.
AS A SORT of personal anecdote, we vividly recall our older Sister, Joanne, coming in from high school and viewing the too tightly cropped opening title of one of these 7 minute shorts. "Who's 'Crappy', she asked?
WELL NOW, THERE'S a straight line if you never heard one!
WE DO REMEMBER viewing this show over our local station, Channel 5,
WNBQ* way back circa 1952-53. It was a pioneering work in the field of
the Sitcom and most likely had a great influence on what would be
coming down the pike in years to come. THE HANK McCUNE SHOW was, in its
own way, quite prolific and is in possession of a most impressive
A TYPICAL HALF-HOUR would revolve around a very simple, everyday and totally believable problem. Story lines were big on characterizations of neighbors and their interacting during the current "crisis." Invariably the guy at the heart of the situation and in the eye of the hurricane was main character, Hank (himself).
THE EPISODES STOCKED their playbills with faces and voices familiar from the rosters of movie supporting players and from the annals of what has come to be called "Old Time Radio." Present in the episodes were: Hanley Stafford (voice of BABY SNOOKS father**), Arthur Q. Bryan (immortalized as ELMER FUDD'S voice in Warner Brothers cartoons), Larry Keating, Ellen Corby, Franklin Pangborn, Thurston Hall, Florence Bates and the ever present "Y-e-s-s-s-s man", Frank Nelson.
FOLLOWING ITS CANCELLATION on the tube, producer/star Mr. Henry McCune brought the same characters, concept and situation-type humor to the movie screen in a poverty row "B" comedy titled THE GO GETTER. Unlike the series episodes, THE GO GETTER boasted of having no added laugh track; of which THE HANK McCUNE SHOW was the originator of this soon to be staple of television comedy shows.
NOTE:* Channel 5 in Chicago is a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Broadcasting Company. The original WNBQ Radio station was owned by The Chicago Daily News and the call letters were changed to WMAQ in the mid sixties. The radio station ceased to be when NBC divested itself of radio broadcasting some 20 years or so ago.
THIS INSTALLMENT OF the classic series is just a tad better than most,
Sure, we admit it has most of the usual elements that are so familiar
in the story-line. But here in addition to the towns peoples' problems
with ruthless outlaws, we have something usually not emphasized.
IN ADDITION TO the investigative work and decisive action taken by the Lone Ranger & Tonto, it is the dedication of the local rustics that wins the day. When the brother of rancher James Houston (Christian Drake) is killed in the line of duty, he dutifully steps into the job. Of course, Lone Ranger & Tonto do their share of the work of meeting the gang's reign of terror; but it is the younger Houston brother who provides the determined, tenacious and ultimately successful efforts in defeating the gang.
MOST INTERESTING TO us was the presence of a young Paul Burke, who portrayed the gang head-honcho. We did not at first recognize him, and chalked this up to Mr. Burke's acting ability. During this period he shows up often in supporting guest roles in many a series and "B" Picture. Series included shots in DRAGNET, PERRY MASON, several Warner Bros. TV series and three episodes of the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN.
WE WERE ALSO surprised to see him in an uncredited part in the Bowery Boys entry, SPY CHASERS (Allied Artists (Monogram), 1955. His characterization in this one shou3d a definite displayed a multi leveled talent; who could even "ham it up", when the situation called for same.
OUTSTANDING FIKM FARE from beginning to end, MANHATAN MELODRSMA
represents the very zenith of the motion picture of its day. The
mounting, the sets, the large cast and the story line all mesh very
well into a collectively made work of art.
AS SWE HAVE alluded to in the summary, this is chock full of what we may consider as being clichéd situations and plot twists. In that sense, it also may well be highly predictable. This is only true because it was introducing story lines that would be fed through the Hollywood Xerox machines for the next 20 years or so. After all, nothing succeeds like success and those in Tinsel Town never minded copying, borrowing or stealing from one another. In this manner, many types or genres were established.
THE STORY SHOWCASES big city life among the working poor, the "blue collar" folks, the polyglot of ethnicity that were blended into what we know as Americans Growing up is demonstrated in two diverging paths, one straight the other the criminal. As is the case all too often n real life, the two paths may well move in very different directions; yet they begin perilously close together.
IN ADDITION TOM the outstanding cast of Mr. Gable, Mr. Powell and Miss Loy, the bolstering of their performances by a large and very capable supporting cast and the previously mentioned origination of the genre, the polish that is evident is largely due to its being directed by W.S. Van Dyke.
THE FILM HAS also had an everlasting mystique shrouding it because of the event of July 22, 1031. It seems that notorious bank robber, John Dillinger, wanted to see it very badly and went to see it with two others in Chicago that night at the Biograph Theatre. It was following the showing that Dillinger met his maker in a shoot out with the FBI and local Chicago cops. Because of this, the Biograph, with its "Cooled by Refrigeration" sign, remains open today as a tourist attraction on north Lincoln Avenue.
WE WONDER JUST what sort of review Mr. Dillinger would have given the movie ?
WE'VE LONG KNOWN of this title, but it wasn't until this past week that
we got the privilege of seeing it. We do recall hat SEEING RE was
available to the home movie market in the 1970's, albeit in 8 mm or
Super 8 silent and B & W versions. It was also probably in an abridged
version as it looked smaller than the standard 18-20 minute reel box
that was on sale at Sears & Roebuck store near our house. The company
was probably KEN FILMS' one of those companies that the rise if the
video recorder successfully put out of business.
AS FOR THE content of this short subject, it was rather standard fare that utilized some of the variety acts that were still being seen live in those days. The one central tenet of this film is the young Red Skelton's being captured forever as he was then. His fledgling stage and screen persona uncanny in their embryonic way of showing the future performer that we all knew and loved so well.
ONCE AGAIN WE must credit TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES with bringing this one into our homes. This was as great an historic find as it was in the realm of comedy, film and entertainment in general.
SEEING THAT FTHIS was one of those BOWERY BOYS movies mad in the
Post-Leo & Bernard Gorcey period, our first inclination was to skip it
and do something more exciting, like watching the paint dry. But
circumstances conspired to deliver us a different fare. We wound up
watching it today via the TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES cable channel and
discovered that this pre-judgment about those last entries in the
series was jut a trifle harsh.
AS WE ALL were well aware, the interplay between gang chief, 'Slip Mahoney' (Leo Gorcey) and his right hand stooge, Horace Debussy 'Sach' Jones (Huntz Hall)was long the main attraction of the series*. In fact, the dialog in just about all the previous entries was about 80+% reserved for the twosome; leaving little for the remaining players.
SO AT THIS point, with Leo gone, the nature of the beast found itself altered slightly with Mr. Huntz Hall's being promoted to top billing and to sort of a different sort of leader. Without any mention of 'Slip' Mahoney's tenor at the helm of around 10 years, the movie brought us one Stanislaus 'Duke' Kovaleskie (Stanley Clements), who did not replace Leo in rank; but did fill the niche and void of Sach's foil.
IN THIS AREA, 'Duke' did a fine job, providing a near perfect straight man to Huntz Hall's buffoonery. And there was no doubt about who was the straight man here, as Gorcey's fondness for double talk and malapropism often made for a difficulty in defining the roles of each.
ANOTHER BENEFIT CAME to the other two or sometimes three BB members in the sudden increase in their lines to speak. David Gorcey (here billed as Dsvid Condon**) for example had much more to say on screen with older brother , Leo, now retired.
THE ADDITION OF Stanley Clements' character did enough to the cast for the series to be propelled along for six pictures. That makes it the longest running series of "B" pictures ever.
ALTHOUGH MANY OF those in a typical audience would consider this to be
somewhat b-o-r-I-n-g, there is much to recommend it. Rather than having
the usual comedy short or musical variety being presented in order to
"warm-up" the audience, this short film serves in giving us all
(everyone) the opportunity to go behind the scenes (backstage, if you
will) and see how an unknown name and face give us what we all take for
granted in designing the look and therefore the success and mood of the
scenes that make up our movies.
IN ITS CRDITS it lists the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences as the production company and Darryl F. Zanuck's 20th Century-Fox as being the distributor of the short. Being a production of an industry inside group, the movie would certainly run the risk of being sappy, maudlin and overly self-congratulatory (ever see the Oscars show?). But these pitfalls are avoided and the result turns out to be much better than one would expect.
IN THE FINAL analysis, what we have here is a cinematic lesson in one reel; which makes one appreciative of those who provide the nuts &m bo0lts of the picture business. They rarely get any recognition, a shortcoming that the film does its best in attempting to correct.
..........AH YES, THESE are all famous legendary bits of the college
football lore that come out of South Bend, Indiana; continuing to grow
in stature with each passing year and generation! Love 'em or hate 'em,
it's the "Fighting Irish" who've carved out an eternal niche in
American sporting lore.
OH, WAIT JUST a minute. We thought you said "Notre Dame", not "Nostradamus", sorry!
THIS FILM PROVIDES some very interesting and highly esoteric info about the famous and very unusual man of the 16th century, who made so many incredibly accurate predictions about future occurrences; even some cryptically written that would seem to be referencing the 20th Century. (remember that, anyone?)
AS WE'VE ALREADY stated, the predictions were not straightforward. The author, old Nostradamus, himself, used many an allegory and either metaphor or other egghead types of writing composition in order to make his final draft more crowd-pleasing and seemingly high brow.
BEING THAT THE main character of good buddy Nostra was in fact a real, historical figure, it makes the short and those like it a sort of cinematic primer for the masses. Who knows just how many young minds were opened up to history and stimulated to seek further knowledge following screening this kind of short film along with the Saturday Matinée or the weekly double feature. (How's about seeing an ANDY HARDY along with a TARZAN pic?)
THE MOVIE EVEN has a sub title. It's NOSTRADAMUS AND THE QUEEN (Prophecies of Nostradamus # 3). This proves that even then, sequels were a big deal!
THE STUDIO'S INTEREST in producing such short subjects may well have been a double edged sword. First of all, projects like this were good for providing training and experience for any up and coming, rookie directors. After all, guys like Capra, Ford and Curtiz didn't come out of nowhere.
SECONDLY THE SUBJECT matter was history and therefore educational educational in nature. Ergo, it was a fine example of MGM Studio's selfless concern about the bottom line of profit and of its desire to both uplift and edify the public. Why this might have even made such productions eligible for some tax exemptions. Who knows? It was worth a shot!
BUT NOW GETTING back to our original blunder in confusing this 16th Century, "modern" soothsayer and oracle with our modern day collegiate gridiron Autumn spectacle is unforgivable! But there is a reason for this blunder. although no excuse.
YOU SEE, UNTIL about the age of ten, we had thought that THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME was a football movie!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
IN KREEPING WITH the self-importance and self-congratulatory attitudes
that are Hollywood, we have this cinematic smorgasbord of Ken Murray's
"home" movies all strung together and interspersed with clips from
(then) current productions, musical accompaniment and some rather
IT'S NOT THAT we intend to ridicule either Mr. Murray or the general mood of this film, it just that it seems just a tad too l-o-n-g-e-r than it should be. Perhaps breaking this concept down to episodes would avoid any chance of overdose.
ON THE POSITIVE side of the ledger, Ken Murray manages to give the audience a different, if not truly candid, view of so many of our screen idols. The informal settings do give the films an unusual overall appearance, sometimes almost surreal.
BOTH UNUSUAL AS well as unexpected was the time devoted to both newspaper publisher and Yellow Journalist, William Randolph Hearst and his self-created modern palace, San Simeon. Long both revered and feared by the denizens of Hollywood, Hearst left this world August 14, 1951. Apparently those folks in the movie colony feared that he still could make 'em or break 'em, even from the Next World.
THE WELL KNOWN species of television show known as the Late Night talk
& variety show has long been a regular feature of network television.
It started with something called Broadway OPEN HOUSE (1950-51), which
ran on the NBC Television Network. It was directly ancestral to THE
TONIGHT SHOW, which made it the forefather and prototype for all that
was to follow. (BROADWAY OPEN HOUSE was hosted by comic Jerry Lester.)
THE HOSTING OF such fare in the late night programming instinctively was given to the funnymen. The comedians made the near perfect host as they would do the opening monologue and some occasional comic sketches, while in between introducing talk-oriented guests, singers and new talent comics. Consequently we had the likes of Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and (briefly) Pat Sajak.
BUT WHERE THERE is a rule, one also will find an exception. In the case of the late night talk show genre, we nominate Dick Cavett as our candidate.
ALTHOUGH POSSESSED OF an enormous supply of wit, Mr. Cavett cannot be called a comedian by any stretch of the imagination. His obvious high degree of intelligence and natural ability as an interviewer make a strong case for classifying him as an "intellectual." Small and slight of build, his personality and fine use of the Queen's English made him a giant of a personality.
ALTHOUGH HE DID a brief monologue at the opening of his show, he was no comedian (as we've already said), he sang no songs and played no musical instruments, he absolutely commanded his audience. His real strength did lie in his talent in the interview.
THE ONE INCIDENT that we witnessed (on the tube) was an interview that he did. The subject was a most obnoxious Norman Mailer. Conducting the interview, Cavett had some notes written on a small sheet of paper.
WHILE MOVING ON from one question to another, Mailer made a smug, snide and very patronizing remark, "Just read it off of your little piece of paper!" ROARING BACK AS if he were a cornered tiger, Letterman shot back, "Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine!"
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