Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Night Key (1937)
An Electronic Genius
NIGHT KEY (Universal, 1937), directed by Lloyd Corrigan, stars horror film icon Boris Karloff in a sort of change-of-pace project from his then current releases. Not exactly playing a night watchman with a skeleton key to get into every room in a warehouse where he works, but a kindly-old inventor with a device known as "The Night Key." Having recently played a scientist whose invention has him going on a murderous rampage in THE INVISIBLE RAY (1935), for NIGHT KEY, Karloff brings a new dimension to inventor/scientist, which, up to that time, typically one who becomes insane through the use of one of his experiments. Here he's a middle-aged father figure, frail in appearance but strong in his actions which marked a new beginning for Karloff with similar roles to follow. Now back to NIGHT KEY.
In an original story by William Pierce set in New York City, the plot introduces Stephen (or Steven) Ranger (Samuel S. Hinds), president of the Ranger Protective Agency, celebrating his twenty years of successful business serving alarm systems for banks and businesses. Dave Mallory (Boris Karloff), his former partner who actually invented these devises years ago, has never received credit nor royalties for his work. Now living in a tenement apartment with his adult daughter, Joan (Jean Rogers), a cashier for Coast to Coast Restaurant, Dave, having worked fifteen years on his latest security system, is slowly going blind. Fearing the new and improved invention might put him out of business, Ranger agrees to talk financial terms with Dave and market the product. Willing to forget Ranger's past misdeeds, Dave entrusts him with the invention in exchange with $500 advance royalty. Once the contracts are signed, Dave soon learns he's been tricked again, with Ranger having no intention of marketing the product after all. After Dave releases the soon to be arrested thief,"Petty Louie" (Hobart Cavanaugh), from Ranger's detention room with his night key, the two men team together through a series of break-ins to ruin Ranger's business, all leaving a note signed by "Night Key" that reads, "What I create, I can destroy." All goes well as planned until mobsters headed by The Kid (Alan Baxter) force Dave and Louie to join in their crime wave. As Dave's daughter awaits to hear from her father and his undisclosed whereabouts, she finds herself being trailed by Jimmy Travers (Warren Hull), one of Ranger's security guards who takes a special interest in this case.
Often classified as a horror film due to the Karloff name and stock music lifted from Universal's own "Werewolf of London" (1935) on certain occasions, NIGHT KEY had formerly linked along other Universal horror titles ("Dracula," "Frankenstein," "The Mummy," "The Wolf Man") whenever shown on broadcast television on Fright Night or Shock Theater festivals back in the sixties and seventies, and briefly on New York City's "Cinema 13 Horror" in 1981. Regardless, NIGHT KEY is actually a quaint little "from science fiction to crime thriller" stories that offers Karloff the opportunity of becoming more than a creepy character or man of evil tendencies as proved in THE BLACK CAT (1934). In NIGHT KEY, Karloff's performance of the frail, white haired old man with bushy mustache, helpless without his glasses, is quite believable. Aside from the secondary performances by the blonde Jean Rogers (in a physical manner of fellow blonde actress, Mary Carlisle) and Warren Hull (billed as J. Warren Hull), noteworthy performance goes to the long forgotten Alan Baxter with distinctive voice and mannerism best suited for gangster leader, the same type he enacted in his debut film, MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE (Paramount, 1935) starring Sylvia Sidney. Interestingly, in spite of Baxter's unique personality, he never ranked among Hollywood's legendary tough guy types of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart or even Alan Ladd. While Hobart Cavanaugh often appeared in minor bits, NIGHT KEY is one of those rare cases next to I COVER THE WATERFRONT (United Artists, 1933) where he's a major secondary character. Others appearing in NIGHT KEY include David Oliver (Mike); Ward Bond ("Fingers'); Frank Reicher (Carl); and Edwin Maxwell (Lawyer Kruger). Henry Armetta and Nina Campini as an Italian couple offer some amusing moments.
Though some might find NIGHT KEY disappointing for lack of horror content, it's actually quite good for its standard, fast-paced second feature material. It's become available on DVD double featured along with Karloff's medieval feature, "Tower of London" (1939), though prints provided happen to be taken from 1940s reissue from Real-Art Pictures. Because of its science fiction theme, NIGHT KEY should have been double-billed with Karloff's THE INVISIBLE RAY (1935) on the flip side instead. (**1/2 keys)
Easy Street (1917)
Law Abiding Charlie
EASY STREET (Mutual, 1917), Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin, stars Charlie Chaplin in another classic comedy short from his Mutual Studio 1916-17 period. A story comedy, this one contains the usual quota of slapstick, chases and assortment of characters in and around the tough district of Easy Street, with plotting that could have been lifted from a Bible story of "David and Goliath" where the meek (Chaplin) encounters with the way of the strong (Eric Campbell).
Opening title card: "A new beginning." A homeless tramp (Charlie Chaplin) in the poor city district of town, sleeping by the bottom of the steps of the Hope Mission, is awaken by hymn singing parishioners. Entering the building, Charlie seats himself next to a woman and her baby. As the minister (Albert Austin) preaches his sermon, Charlie takes an interest in the young attractive organ player, Prudence (Edna Purviance), the preacher's daughter. In the meantime on Easy Street, police brave a losing battle of gang fights lead by a giant bully, Bill Basher (Eric Campbell) having the law enforcement officers carried away in a stretcher, bruised up in torn uniforms. A sign, "Policeman wanted," immediately posted outside the door attracts the attention of the passer-by Charlie. Now a new fledge police officer, Charlie's beat becomes Easy Street, which turns out not so easy when coming face to face with the meanest looking brute feared by the community, Bill Baster. Will Charlie live long enough to retire and collect his pension? Time will tell, even if it's only for twenty two minutes.
EASY STREET certainly ranks one of Chaplin's finest. Though not particularly playing New York City's finest, situations depicted could very well be anywhere. A glimpse of a sign captured on screen indicates the setting to be Los Angeles, California, and not in Charlie's homeland of the dive district of London. What makes those Chaplin Mutual comedies to be his best would be his creative genius of turning a simple story and making it as funny as can be, even with serious suspenseful moments by placing hero and heroine inside a locked room with a dope fiend. Of course there's the oft-casting of Edna Purviance as Charlie's female co-star, and other staff players as Henry Bergman, Frank J. Coleman, Charlotte Mineau, John Rand and Loyal Underwood in their assigned roles. None come close to scene stealing as Eric Campbell, the bully of the district. Working under Chaplin's company for the eighth time, Campbell abandons the traditional weird beard for a dirty face, shaved head and pointy eyebrows in the matter of the devil's horns. Of the scenes depicted, the best segments are those involving Chaplin and Campbell: Campbell showing how solid his head can be as Officer Charlie hits it repeatedly with his club; a scene involving them using a street lamp; and of course, the end result not to be missed. With Campbell often labeled as "Chaplin's Goliath," for EASY STREET, he's Chaplin's Hercules, considering his super human strength and ability to break out of tight situations, including handcuffs.
Aside from Charlie promoting himself from tramp to policeman, there's moments in between his official duties where he shows heart and humility towards those in need, such as a hungry woman caught stealing a loaf of bread to feed her family. For Chaplin, he doesn't do this for sentimental purposes but showing how his character can be just as human as anyone else, and still get few laughs in the process.
Years before cable television broadcasts as Arts and Entertainment in the 1980s, EASY STREET had become one of many early Chaplin comedies to be shown on either public or commercial television, the latter as part of the 1960s series, "Charlie Chaplin Comedy Theater." Prints containing 1920s sounding orchestral score with singing and sound effects from 1930s reissues were most commonly shown on PBS stations prior to 1972, the same prints acquired from Blackhawk/Republic Home Video in eighties and nineties. At present, restored prints, new orchestral scoring with silent film projection speed have become available from Kino Video in both video and DVD formats , the same prints occasionally used on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 6, 1999). Next Chaplin Mutual comedy, THE CURE (1917). (***1/2)
Rio Rita (1942)
Two Guys in Texas
RIO RITA (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1942), directed by S. Sylvan Simon, stars those two funny guys from Universal making their MGM debut, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, in a rare case where the movie for which they are appearing is lifted from a Broadway show rather than than the use of an original screenplay. Based on a Florenz Ziegfeld 1927 musical-comedy by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, later adapted to a large-scale 136 minute part color motion picture for RKO Radio (1929) featuring Bebe Daniels, John Boles, and the comic antics by Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, this latest edition, which might have been something for MGM's resident comics, Red Skelton and Rags Ragland, to MGM's credit, acquires the services of Abbott and Costello while the titled character, played by Kathryn Grayson, is one of secondary importance.
The revised plot with special material by John Grant, finds stranded vacationers, Doc (Bud Abbott) and Wishy Dunn (Lou Costello), working at a Texas pet shop, earning enough money for their return trip home to New York. After their boss fires them for losing a customer's dog, Doc and Wishy hide themselves in the trunk of a parked car with New York license plates, unaware that its owner, radio singer, Ricardo Montera (John Carroll), is not heading for New York but coming from New York bound for the Hotel Vista Del Rio to reunite himself with his childhood sweetheart, Rita Winslow (Kathryn Grayson), the hotel's owner. With Maurice Craindall (Tom Conway) acting as manager, with Jake (Peter Whitney),Trask (Arthur Space) and Gus (Dick Rich) as his assistants, Rita acquires further help by hiring Doc and Wishy jobs as hotel detectives. By doing this, the dual not only encounter Nazi spies in their midst, but a crate of shortwave radio concealed inside miniature apples adding to the confusion.
Others in the cast are Patricia Dane (Lucette Brinswick); Barry Nelson (Harry Gantley); and Eve Puig (Marianna). Songs by Harry Tierney and Joseph McCarthy; Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg include: "Long Before You Came Along" (sung by John Carroll and Kathryn Grayson); "Agua Caliente" (sung by Rangers); "The Ranger Song" (Rangers, Carroll and Grayson); "Rio Rita" (sung by John Carroll); "The Brazilian Dance" (performed by Brazilian dancer, Eros Volusia, in her Hollywood movie debut); "Ombres Legeres" (The Shadow Song)" (sung by Grayson); and "The Ranger Song. John Carroll's rich baritone singing is pleasant enough, but his speaking with Spanish accent makes one wish of having either a Ricardo Montalban or a Desi Arnaz in his place. For Kathryn Grayson, a likable screen presence with a fine voice, does have one very dull moment during her operatic vocalization of "The Shadow Song."
As much as the Abbott and Costello comedies are funnier over at Universal than the three they did for MGM, RIO RITA is still quite entertaining, the MGM way. Though not generally known when it comes to Abbott and Costello titles, at least not as forgotten as their once elusive Africa SCREAMS (1949), RIO RITA follows the then familiar pattern of song interludes by romantic leads and amusements by the comics. At MGM, Costello retains his dopey fat guy character as before while Bud, still the straight man who gives the orders, is given a rare chance to break away from his partner from time to time for romancing (mostly off-screen) with an attractive young woman named Dotty (Joan Valerie). While Lou can be naturally funny at times, there are moments where his comedy antics are forced and just plain silly. Routine exchanges between Bud and Lou revolving "Pike's Peke," "$10 You're Not There," and the re-enactment of Wheeler and Woolsey's original "Drinking Pulge" from their RIO RITA 1929 film, are among their finest, along with one with Lou believing he's encountered talking animals. The most notable, though not the very best due to end result, happens to be the one where Lou gets trapped inside a giant turntable washing machine with Bud in his method of helping by pushing buttons, making matters worse. This sequence alone must have been good enough to be included as one of the comedy highlights for Robert Youngson's documentary of MGM'S BIG PARADE OF COMEDY (1964).
Formerly on video cassette, both 1929 (reissue 103 minute print) and 1942 (91 minutes) editions of RIO RITA can be seen and compared whenever it turns up on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. (***)
The Count (1916)
Charlie in Society
THE COUNT (Mutual Studios, 1916), Written, Directed and starring Charlie Chaplin, has the legendary comedian at it again in his fifth of twelve comedy shorts for Mutual. Not exactly doing a spoof on Count Dracula, the count in this comedy happens to be a man Charlie impersonates by accident.
Charlie is introduced as an assistant tailor whose method of measuring one of the female customers and burning a handful of clothes with an iron gets him fired by his stern employer (Eric Campbell). While getting fired seems to take part of his every day existence, rather than looking for another job, Charlie comes to an estate to pay a visit to his lady friend (Eva Thatcher) who not only works there as a cook, but entertains other gentlemen callers as well. In the meantime, the head tailor discovers a note in the suit belonging to one of his customers, Count Broko, addressed to Mrs. Moneybags explaining he cannot attend a function where he's to be introduced to her wealthy daughter. Seeing this the opportunity for richness, the tailor takes it upon himself by dressing up to impersonate the honored guest and come to the society party himself. As fate would have it, the Moneybags estate happens to be where Charlie is visiting. An accidental meeting has Charlie passing himself off as Count Broko with his ex-boss being his personal secretary rather than the other way around as originally intended. As the function gets underway, the two rivals begin to vie for the affection of Miss Moneybags (Edna Purviance), but things don't go on as initially planned.
For a Charlie Chaplin comedy, Charlie Chaplin naturally is the whole show. His show is commonly shared by an assortment of Chaplin stock players of featured support consisting of familiar faces of Albert Austin (The Guest); Frank J. Coleman (The Policeman); Leo White (Count Broko); Charlotte Mineau (Mrs. Moneybags); James T. Kelly (The Butler). Chaplin antics consist attempting to eat Limburger cheese; eating at a society function and his method of eating watermelon; his method of dancing with Miss Moneybags; and situations leading to a latter-day Three Stooges type of finish. While some clever sounding names as Moneybags were used for the society family, it's interesting that Chaplin didn't come up with names of Taylor the Tailor for either himself or Eric Campbell.
As usual, Chaplin and Campbell, rivaling each other for the affections of a society girl, are highlights of the evening. No doubt their physical union were the inspiration of the much latter cartoon escapes of sailors, the short Popeye and the tall, rugged and bearded Bluto. While Popeye ate spinach as his method of strength and fight, Chaplin uses clever ideas and swift kicks when necessary for his.
Many years after its release, THE COUNT had been broadcast on television in various formats: prints from 1930s reissue with orchestration and sound effects commonly found on public television in the sixties and seventies, and later on home video through Blackhawk or Republic Home Video in the 1980s and 90s; different orchestration for the syndication and later PBS television program of "Charlie Chaplin Comedy Theater" (1960s); and restored visual copies from KINO Video with new orchestration used for both VHS or DVD formats with corrected silent speed extending the standard 21 minute short to 24, among others. The KINO format is the one often used on Turner Classic Movies cable channel (TCM premiere: December 6, 1999).
A society comedy which Chaplin would attempt again, THE COUNT, though average, does have some moments of fun and amusements. With perfectionist Chaplin improving himself from one film after another, better comedies lay ahead. Next Chaplin Mutual comedy: THE PAWN SHOP (1916). (***)
Here Is My Heart (1934)
The Princess and the Crooner
HERE IS MY HEART (Paramount, 1934), directed by Frank Tuttle, stars Bing Crosby in a fairy-tale type romance not so much in the Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald flavor of LOVE ME TONIGHT (Paramount, 1932), but something re-platted from Alfred Sevoir's stage production, "The Grand Duchess and the Waiter," a play that turned into the 1926 silent Paramount comedy featuring Adolphe Menjou and Florence Vidor. As with many silent movies, most were remade or recycled with sound. For this sound edition, the grand duchess is now a princess and the waiter not only sings but offers a flare for comedy as well.
The story revolves around a 28-year-old John Paul Jones (Bing Crosby), songwriter and former radio singer who, after inheriting a million dollar fortune, makes a list of things to do, fulfilling his lifelong fantasies. Checked off is one where he rescues a damsel in distress, a damsel who happens to be Claire Hastings (Marian Mansfield), one of the guests upon his yacht, the S.S. Bon Homme Richard. His next check off on his "bucket list" is fishing right in the center of the Atlantic Ocean. Later that evening, J. Paul receives a telegram from his friend, James Smith (William Frawley), a reporter from the Paris Chronicle, notifying him that he's located the owner of the second pistol once owned by the American Revolutionary hero, John Paul Jones (whose name is, according to J. Paul, "a coincidence, not descendant"), the pistol he hopes to buy and add with the one he currently owns to present to the U.S. Naval Academy. Heading to Monte Carlo to make arrangements with the gun owner, J. Paul, after registering at the luxurious Hotel D'Athene, encounters an attractive but snobbish woman (Kitty Carlisle) in the elevator. He is later told by Smith that the woman in the elevator happens to be the Princess Alexandra, owner of the second pistol who refuses to sell the item to anyone who's not royalty. Because of J. Paul's background, he is told the princess refuses to sell it to him at any price. After a drunken waiter (Arthur Housman) loses consciousness while delivering a tray of food to the Princess's room, J. Paul, mistaken for the waiter, assumes the role in order to get closer to the princess and her snobbish family consisting of the Countess Ristova (Alison Skipworth), Prince Nicholas (Roland Young) Prince Vova Vladimir (Reginald Owen) and their talking parrot. J. Paul even goes to the extreme measures with every breath he takes by buying the hotel for himself. Learning the princess to be extremely bored with life, J. Paul also finds the royal family not what they seem to be Others featured in the cast are: Cecilia Parker (Suzette); Akim Tamiroff (The Hotel Manager); Charles Wilson (The Yacht Captain); and Charles Arnt (Higgins).
The musical soundtrack composed by Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin and Lewis Gensler include: "June in January" (sung by Bing Crosby); "Love is Just Around the Corner" (sung by Crosby and Marian Mansfield); "June in January" (reprise by Crosby while listening to his own recording); "Italian Opera Song" (sung by Kitty Carlisle); "With Every Breath I Take" (sung by Crosby); "With Every Breath I Take" (Crosby and Carlisle); "Love is Just Around the Corner," "With Every Breath I Take" and "June in January." Of the few sons written for the screen, "June in January" gets the most and best treatment here. As much as the title, HERE IS MY HEART might have some indication of this being a medical story involving heart transplants, or a romantic comedy set on Valentine's Day, it's a wonder whether or not such a song bearing its movie title might have been considered as another song interlude and later scrapped. Considering the movie title sounding more like a song tune than having any connection with the plot is somewhat typical for its time as movie titles go.
Unseen and unavailable for decades, HERE IS MY HEART has become the least known of all the Bing Crosby/Paramount musicals from the 1930s. Sometime in the 1980s during a pledge drive from WNET, Channel 13's New York City based public television station, it was Kitty Carlisle, Crosby's co-star from this and SHE LOVES ME NOT (Paramount, 1934), who mentioned in an interview that her second film with Crosby, HERE IS MY HEART "isn't around anymore." Though it wasn't fully expressed whether the movie was officially lost with no surviving prints available or not, HERE IS MY HEART has fortunately survived and available in full glory on DVD in 2000 as part of the "Bing Crosby Collection", with MISSISSIPPI (1935) on its flip side of the disc. Though Crosby seemed to have better on-screen chemistry with Mary Carlisle than he did with the sophisticated Kitty, HERE IS MY HEART, at 76 minutes, is a worthy rediscovery and one to check off your list of Bing Crosby movie titles to see. (***1/2)
The Immigrant (1917)
Charlie's Brave New World
THE IMMIGRANT (Mutual Studios, 1917), Written, directed and starring Charlie Chaplin in his eleventh short subject for Mutual, is another well-produced comedy with a good mix of proper story and funny sight gags. Though the film itself could have developed into feature length form, allowing more plot and character development to Chaplin's title role and others around him, the end result, is a story divided in two parts: the first being an introduction of Charlie and other immigrants before they just come off the boat; the second with Charlie in America waiting his ship to come in.
PART ONE: The opening introduces an assortment of various immigrants gathered together on a boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean awaiting their arrival to the land of opportunity. One of the immigrants is a nameless passenger whom will be classified as Charlie (Charlie Chaplin). As he tries keeping balance and avoiding seasickness as the ship sways back and forth in seesaw fashion, Charlie, unable to eat a hearty meal, offers his seat in the mess room to a young girl (Edna Purviance) traveling on board with her widowed mother (Kitty Bradbury). On deck playing a game of cards, one of the players (Henry Bergman) sneaks away long enough to lift the entire life savings from Edna's sleeping mother to use for further gambling purposes. However, it's Charlie who wins the cash. After learning of Edna's misfortune, Charlie, as a friendly gesture, offers her his winnings. As the ship passes the Statue of Liberty and docks on Ellis Island, the passengers part company. PART TWO: Charlie, broke and hungry, finds a coin (possibly a silver dollar) resting on the sidewalk and uses it to spend on a square meal at a nearby restaurant. While there, Charlie reacquaints himself with Edna, inviting her to accompany him for dinner. After Charlie witnesses what happens to a diner who's ten cents short on his bill by a giant-sized waiter (Eric Campbell), also his server, Charlie discovers, to his shocking surprise, the coin to pay for he and Edna's meal is gone!
Others featured in the cast of Chaplin stock players include: Albert Austin (Man in restaurant); Frank J. Coleman (Immigrant/ Restaurant Manager), John Rand, James T. Kelly and Loyal Underwood. Take notice Henry Bergman can be spotted playing two different roles, that of a shipboard passenger, another as an accomplished artist.
Once again, Charlie presents himself as both gentleman of nerve and gentleman of heart. Though it's never fully realized of Charlie's country origin, one would assume that since Chaplin is of British birth that his character is one coming to America from his native England. A funny and agreeable silent comedy with some truly classic scenes, the best saved for its second half in the restaurant involving Chaplin and his Goliath-sized waiter (Campbell).
For the documentary, "Unknown Chaplin," it was profiled as to how THE IMMIGRANT was developed. Using existing outtakes showing Henry Bergman playing the waiter, it's been said that Chaplin found something not right with the picture. Once substituting Bergman with the fierce looking Campbell, the restaurant scene developed into one of the funniest sequences in the entire movie. Sources note that when THE IMMIGRANT was completed, Chaplin had as much as 90,000 feet of negative, having Chaplin himself spending four days and nights editing and putting the pieces together to his satisfaction, which indicates what a perfectionist Chaplin was and how dedicated he was to his craft. Even the final result is atypical Chaplin, making this every bit worth his lost coin of admission to see.
Reviewed from 1990s video cassette copy from Blackhawk/Republic Home Video distribution, the twenties-style orchestration and sound effects on the soundtrack from 1930s reissue simply turns this into pleasant viewing experience. Restored prints with clear visuals, new orchestration and silent speed projection (30 minutes from standard 21) from KINO Video, availability on VHS or DVD, is the print occasionally used for Turner Classic Movies broadcasts (TCM premiere: December 6, 1999). Beware of some poor copies of THE IMMIGRANT and some with missing opening inter-title, "A widow and her daughter" pertaining to Edna and mother) with inappropriate/ bad scoring that hurts the significance of such a great comedy classic. Next Chaplin Mutual comedy: THE ADVENTURER. (****)
The Cure (1917)
Charlie's Restful Retreat
THE CURE (Mutual Studios, 1917), Written, directed and starring Charlie Chaplin, his tenth comedy short (20 minutes) for the Mutual studio, is one of his all time greats. For a title that indicates one to be set in a hospital with Charlie as an unruly patient who flirts with the nurses and drives his doctors crazy, in essence, it takes place in a sanitarium that wherever Charlie goes, trouble follows. For THE CURE, Chaplin breaks away from his traditional tramp character with derby and cane for straw hat, white suit and cane retained, stirring as much trouble as he can, intentionally or not, to those around him.
The story opens at a resort with an assortment of female gossips gathered together seated around the health spring where enters the new resident, the drunken Charlie (Charlie Chaplin), arriving for a rest cure, to nearly fall into the water well on the ground. After being escorted to his room by a frail and thin bellboy, Charlie opens his crate that reveals an assortment of liquor bottles. Once the bottles are discovered with the bearded bellboy found drunk in Charlie's room, the superintendent (Frank J. Coleman) orders the bottles thrown out. The attendant (Albert Austin) takes him literally and throws the bottles out the window where they end up inside the water spring below. In the meantime, Charlie makes his rounds about the resort, encountering an attractive woman (Edna Purviance) being annoyed by the burly gout (Eric Campbell), thus, saving the day by becoming a big annoyance for the big man and hero to the girl. Later at the massage parlor, Charlie begins to have second thoughts of treatment when witnessing how the sadistic masseur (Henry Bergman) works on one of his customers. Following a series of unforeseen circumstances, Edna, whose about to meet with Charlie, discovers, to her disbelief, the refined residents and attendants having way too much fun for themselves in the lobby without knowing the reason why. And if that isn't enough!!!
While there's not much plot nor character background development to go around, THE CURE is non-stop comedy, pure and simple. The carefully planned-out gags are enough to guarantee solid laughs with Chaplin stock character types in their proper roles for background support. As much as Chaplin is the sole attraction when it comes to both character and gags, Eric Campbell should not go unnoticed for his achievement in villainous comedy. Campbell, better known in later years as "Chaplin's Goliath," partakes in some of the greatest sight gags imaginable, including the revolving door, his reaction towards Charlie's misconducts involving his bandaged foot, his involvement with Charlie in both lobby and massage parlor, his trip down the stairs in a wheelchair, among others. Aside from Edna Purviance as Chaplin's frequent female co-star, other members of the cast include James T. Kelly, John Rand, Janet Miller Sully and Loyal Underwood.
In the well documented three-part 1983 documentary, "Unknown Chaplin," there are some detailed moments capturing behind the scenes preparation for THE CURE, with Chaplin directing various sequences that were rehearsed and filmed, but not making it to the final print, and how changes to THE CURE developed into what has become one of Chaplin's finest gems, especially when properly scored on the musical soundtrack.
When presented on public television in the sixties and seventies, this and other Chaplin's Mutual comedies (1916-17) were broadcast with sound effects and musical score taken from 1930s reissue prints. For THE CURE, underscoring consisted of current hit tunes of the day ranging from "Happy Feet" to "Happy Days Are Here Again." These reissue prints later became part of the Blackhawk/ Republic Home Video package dating back to the 1980s. In latter years, Chaplin's Mutual comedies were restored to accurate silent projection speed (25 minutes) with new orchestral score from KINO Video, the prints that have played on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 6, 1999). After listening to different scores from various distributors, nothing comes off better than those orchestrated ones from Blackhawk for that bad scoring takes away the impact for such a fine comedy, considering how these twelve Chaplin shorts for Mutual are simply the cure for what ales you. (****)
Africa Screams (1949)
"Africa Screams" (Nassour Studios, released through United Artists, 1949), directed by Charles Barton, is a better than average Abbott and Costello comedy which places the popular team in one of their rare independent productions outside their home base of Universal Pictures. With military themes, ghost stories, college musicals, westerns, murder mysteries and everything else imaginable behind them, it would be a matter of time before Bud and Lou attempted a jungle comedy. The original screenplay by Earl Baldwin doesn't have Bud and Lou meeting Tarzan, Jungle Jim, Bomba the Jungle Boy, King Kong or The African Queen, but do team up with notable animal trainer, Clyde Beatty, and animal hunter, Frank Buck, in guest starring roles playing themselves.
The story revolves around a couple of store clerks in the book section at Klopper's Department Store. Stanley Livington (Lou Costello), is approached at the counter by Grappler McCoy (Max Baer) and Boots Wilson (Buddy Baer), a couple of tough looking thugs inquiring about an out of print book, "Dark Safari" by Cuddleford, a notable explorer. The men, who are more interested in the map enclosed in the book, find that Stanley can reproduce the map by memory. They offer him $1,000 with the reproduction at their address later that night. At the same time, Diana Emerson (Hillary Brooke) inquires about the same book to Stanley's friend and partner, Buzz Johnson (Bud Abbott). Knowing Stanley to be more familiar with the book than he, offers his services at her asking price of $2,500, arranging their meeting at her home later that evening. Upon their arrival, Buzz introduces Stanley to Diane as the world's greatest explorer who accompanied Cuddleford on an African expedition, never revealing Stanley has a phobia towards animals. Stanley also gets to meet Diane's present guest, Clyde Beatty, who's hired to lead the safari in search for an orangutan gargantuan (while in actuality seeking for uncut diamonds depicted on the map of the book) . Overhearing Diane offering Beatty $2,000 for the expedition, finding he could obtain more money than offered, convinces Diane to take he and Buzz on the expedition as well, which she does, at the price of the drawn map by Stanley. Once in the jungles of Africa, with the safari crew with Diane's henchmen; Harry (Joe Besser), her cook and butler; Gunner (Shemp Howard), an extremely near-sited sharpshooter as their protector (!); Buzz and Stanley soon realizes their lives are in greater danger with Diane and her thugs than coming face to face with lions, crocodiles, a giant gorilla, and cannibal tribe from the Ubangi territory as Stanley's map turns out not to be quite the one depicted from the book in question.
Although its title "Africa Screams" is reportedly depicted from a 1930 documentary,"Africa Speaks," a product made so long ago for 1949 audiences not to even recall, is, what it appears, to be a parody to the Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour "Road to" series of the 1940s, especially the jungle African ventures of ROAD TO ZANZIBAR (1941) and ROAD TO MOROCCO (1942). In fact, with Bud, Lou and Hillary Brooks doing a Crosby, Hope and Lamour take, minus the song and dance interludes and Hollywood in-jokes, who could ask for anything more when it comes to certain gags and situations that could be just as fun to see with either Hope or Costello clowning in their own individual comedic style.
Overlooking the aforementioned ROAD series format, "Africa Screams" is pure 79 minute comedy in the best Abbott and Costello tradition. Aside from Costello's frightful expressions and reactions, he naturally gets the biggest laughs here, especially with his shared sequences with other famed comics as Shemp Howard and Joe Besser (individually part of the Three Stooges comedy team at one point in their careers). Interestingly, both Besser and Hillary Brooke would become semi-regulars on their two-season television series of "The Abbott and Costello Show" (1952-53). Best moments for Costello occur when trying to impress Diane by doing a Clyde Beatty by locking himself inside a cage with a real lion who turns out not to be Buzz in lion costume; unknowingly swimming with a crocodile; and frightful reaction when approached by a giant gorilla, among others.As Costello gets the last laugh, it's his partner Abbott who, in state of confusion, who responds, "I just don't understand it." The audience does. Watch for it.
With well thought out gags and some unexpected surprises, it's a wonder why "Africa Screams" has become the least known of all of their comedies combined. Once shown on New York City television (1956-1961) before disappearing from view, "Africa Screams" never became part of New York's television package of Abbott and Costello comedies (1940-1956) commonly shown Sunday morning/afternoons on WPIX, Channel 11 (1971-89). Falling into public domain with some poor reproductive copies, "Africa Screams" resurfaced on television after a long hiatus on cable, public television and independent stations as well as the early stages of home video in the early 1980s. In later years, "Africa Screams" turned up on DVD, and on cable TV's Turner Classic Movies starting in 2006. With availability readily accessible in recent years, "Africa Screams" should be an interesting rediscovery and real treat for anyone familiar with every Abbott and Costello movie ever made but unaware of the existence of this one. Availability in colorized format is quite good. (***)
The Vagabond (1916)
Charlie and the Gypsy Girl
THE VAGABOND (Mutual Studios, 1916), directed by Charlie Chaplin, stars the legendary Charlie Chaplin in his third comedy short for the studio. With Chaplin's attempt with improving himself with each passing film, rather than the usual twenty minutes of slapstick and chases, he deftly blends humor and sentiment, a standard that would later become associated by his technique in storytelling. Rather than playing a trouble-making tramp, this time Charlie's a violin playing drifter with more human qualities than before.
The story opens in great comedy tradition as Charlie enters a bar to play his violin for the patrons. His music is drowned out by a German street band playing outside. As the band leader enters to collect money, he finds Charlie collecting the money instead. A brawl and chase ensues until the crowd loses themselves in the confusion, giving Charlie a chance to sneak away. Charlie next approaches a gypsy drudge where he plays for a gypsy girl (Edna Purviance) washing clothes. A brief cutaway of the plot shows a society matron (Charlotte Mineau), looking at an old photo of a little girl who, believed by its movie audience to have been abducted by gypsies many years ago. Now a young woman, the girl is shown to be an abused slave to the gypsy leader (Eric Campbell). Witnessing one of her brutal whippings that leaves her senseless, Charlie steps in to rescue her, leading to a wild escape down the road in a gypsy caravan. Resting in a secluded spot on a country road, Charlie, having assisted the gypsy girl with her every needs, finds himself in stiff competition when a struggling artist (Lloyd Bacon) enters the scene, inspired by the girl's beauty and uses her as a subject matter to his latest canvas painting, "The Living Shamrock."
THE VAGABOND may not be one of Chaplin's most memorable of his comedy shorts for the Mutual Studios, but it represents him here more as a comic-actor rather than a just a slapstick one. Though scripted by Chaplin himself, the story seems to have some influence to Michael Balfe opera, "The Bohemian Girl," which also involves gypsies. While THE VAGABOND could very well have become a straight dramatic story for the possible choices of a Lillian Gish and Robert Harron under D.W. Griffith's direction, instead, it's Chaplin being both Griffith and Harron, and Purviance being Gish. Because its a two-reel comedy, it leaves very little detail for plot and character development. There are moments found in the film where it looks heavily edited. Usually when comedians do drama, or mix comedy with drama, the attempt fails. Fortunately for Chaplin, his method is believable and acceptable as long as he doesn't stray too far from his usual standard of comedy. Of the Chaplin stock players, including Leo White and Frank J. Coleman, Eric Campbell, later known as "Chaplin's Goliath," stands out as the hefty villainous gypsy with the whip, while the funniest performance comes from a character playing an old white-haired gypsy hag. No screen credit is given for his or her work. If played by an actor in drag, all the funnier. And the young artist, played by Lloyd Bacon, the same Bacon who would become a notable movie director himself.
Presented on commercial television in the sixties as part of "Charlie Chaplin Theater," and unseen on public broadcasting television since the 1970s, THE VAGABOND was later resurrected a decade later on cable channels and home video. Though various editions have different underscoring, ranging from orchestration to jazz rhythm and blues, Blackhawk Video's edition consisted of reissue prints presented in theaters of the 1930s with the use of sound effects and instrumental scoring to "The Vagabond Lover" and theme scoring used for the independent feature, VANITY FAIR (Allied Pictures, 1932) starring Myrna Loy. When shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 6, 1999) as part of its "star of the month" tribute to Charlie Chaplin, THE VAGABOND and other Mutual shorts were broadcast in restored clear visuals, new scoring and in accurate silent film speed extending the standard 22 minute short to 34 minutes. Though that's all well and good, poor scoring most of all takes away the enjoyment of the film, leaving the most preferred viewing from Blackhawk (later Republic) Home Video. Next Chaplin short: ONE A.M. (1916) (***)
Hit the Ice (1943)
Comin' Down the Mountain
HIT THE ICE (Universal, 1943), directed by Charles Lamont, certainly has the distinction of being another one of many ice skating musicals starring Olympic skating champion, Sonja Henie. Though Henie doesn't appear, much of the icing goes to Universal's top comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. While there are good songs and some ice skating involved, HIT THE ICE also has the distinction of other fine things presented that truly indicate why Abbott and Costello movies were so successful during the World War II years. Though they don't really hit the ice, they surely were hitting their stride.
The story opens at Fulton Hospital where Harry "Silky" Fellowsby (Sheldon Leonard) occupies a room feigning feverish illness in order to establish an alibi as he and his fellow mobster pals, Phil (Marc Lawrence) and Buster (Joseph Sawyer) sneak out of the hospital to rob the bank across the street. While Bill Burns (Patric Knowles) is doctor in the case, his nurse, Peggy Osborne (Elyse Knox) suspects foul play. As the gangsters await for the arrival of a couple of gunmen from Detroit, Doctor Burns meets up with a couple of friends from his childhood days, Flash Fulton (Bud Abbott) and Tubby McCoy (Lou Costello), now photographers hoping to get some pictures for the newspaper where they hope to obtain employment. Inviting the boys to come along on an emergency call via ambulance, naturally when Flash and Tubby unintentionally encounter Silky and his gang at the hospital, they are mistaken for the boys from Detroit. Unwittingly assisting the gangsters in the bank robbery, it's Flash and Tubby who are accused with their photo sketches placed on the newspaper's front page. As the dual attempt to prove their innocence and return the bank money by following the gangsters via train to Sun Valley, Silky and his gang keep watch on Flash and Tubby believing they hold actual photos of them at the robbery. In the meantime, as Silky hides the loot in his mountain cabin, Burns, now a resident physician at Sun Valley accompanied by his ever suspicious nurse, Flash and Tubby, working as waiters, soon meet up with another friend from their boyhood days, orchestra leader Johnny Long (Johnny Long), whose vocalist, Marcia Manning (Ginny Simms), might have some connection with Silky and his gang. Then the fun really begins.
Aside from great comedy routines in the true Abbott and Costello fashion, including some clever verbal exchanges (one resembling their classic "baseball" routine), pack and unpack, Costello's "all right" piano playing to a recording (a scene usually edited from broadcast TV channels to allot for extended commercial breaks, and a routine later recreated in an episode to their 1950s TV series, "The Abbott and Costello Show"), and the handkerchief and punch-me gag, there's the usual time-out song interludes to showcase some musical talent, in this case, the vocalization of the gorgeous Ginny Simms. Songs scored by Harry Revel and Paul Francis Webster include: "I'm Like a Fish Out of Water" (no connection to the same title tune from the 1937 Warner Brothers musical, "Hollywood Hotel"); "I Like to Set You to Music" (sung by Ginny Simms, The Four Teens, and Johnny Long); "Slap Happy Polka" (sung by Simms and skaters) and "Happiness Bound" (sung by band members). Of the four tunes, "Slap Happy Polka" and "Happiness Bound" are at its listening best, with the Polka number staged in hilarious fashion as Costello gets himself entangled in an ice skating ensemble, to hilarious results. If that's not hilarious enough, be sure not to miss Abbott and Costello's climatic chase coming down the mountain on skis.
With frequent broadcast television revivals, especially on New York City's WPIX Channel 11 Abbott and Costello Sunday morning movies(1971-1990), and prior to that on WNBC, Channel 4's late show through much of the late sixties, HIT THE ICE, which was then one of the most widely known among Abbott and Costello film titles, has become sadly overlooked through the passage of time, which is a shame because it's still 84 minutes of old-style non-stop fun.
Formerly available on video cassette around the 1990s, HIT THE ICE can still be seen in its full glory on DVD, along with other Abbott and Costello titles on the same disc as IN SOCIETY (1944) and THE NAUGHTY NINETIES (1945). Take note that while Costello is called "Tubby" throughout the story, he's listed in the closing cast credits under the name of "Weejie." Now that's really hitting the ice. (***)