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Studio One: An Almanac of Liberty (1954)
Self -Righteous political morality play.
This apparently quickly put together one-act play may be rightfully forgotten today but it seemed to be shooting for the same level of easy heroism as "The Crucible". Supposedly it was "inspired" by a book by W.O. Douglas, and Charles Collingwood, one of Murrow's cronies, introduces it to bestow some sort of importance.
It shows how liberals viewed most of fly-over country America was like, even if all we see are the town hall and the people; it's an old, timeworn building with an archaic telephone. The people are unimaginative and dull, easily lead by hotheads who get their way because they have money. They scare easily, and can't make sense of the pure, fair, gentle figure of the stranger who hasn't lifted a finger against those that gave him a punch-out in the prologue.
The antsy town leader rails on about how intolerable someone like him, who doesn't agree with everything he thinks, is Un-American. But as in most straw-man agitprop, precisely what the offending argument was is not stated, just like the words "communist" or "Russia" weren't used. "That Country" is good enough. Only "Americanism" is said, and that's supposed to sound like a curse.
The whole lot of these unwashed middle Americans are hypocrites, as we find there hasn't been a town hall meeting in thirty years! That there having this one on this day- miraculously, constitution day- is because of the weird hand of a mysterious unseen supernatural power. Time itself stops until they see the error of their ways. When they do, the rain stops, time re-starts, and the stranger vanishes! The implication is what? That the almighty staged this little re-education class and the stranger was his son? Is that the side God picked? Leftist propaganda is not noted for it's light touch.
The anti-hero of this story, Danny, is a smiling, low IQ young man designed to pull sympathy. He's tricked (rather incredibly) into attacking a warder in the prison he's serving in. The attack becomes a murder, but since it was intended only to hurt or maim, we're asked to take that as less deserving of a murder's proscribed punishment.That he's not too bright is supposed to mitigate things. We're shown one of his follow prisoners on death row who's obviously quite mad.Maybe Danny is innocent by way of insanity? On the day of his sentence, guards ambush him in his cell to violently bind him up to take him to the gallows-then we cut to quotations from official papers describing just how terrible hangings can be.
Danny is a pretty obvious straw man- based on Timothy Evans, the illiterate falsely convicted and hanged murderer in 1950. We are never supposed to consider or sympathise with a murder victim. Is it any less horrific to have one's head opened with an iron pipe than to have a rope stretch one's neck? This sort of clouding the issue paid off, as really "3 Clear Sundays" is a post-mortem on the death penalty, this transmission coming eight months after the last hanging in Britain.
Hickey & Boggs (1972)
Culp and Cosby go flat.
It would seem that this film would be banking on residual affection for the action spy series of the sixties, "I SPY", where Culp and Cosby played bright, funny pals that joked and wisecracked their way through the cloak-and-dagger adventures. But here, they make no attempt to revive that devil-may-care camaraderie, and apparently thinking they needed to be taken seriously as action stars, play nothing for laughs. They don't kid around at all, in fact they never even smile or get emotional one way or another. They're sullen and tired and cynical with none of the chemistry that worked so well before.It's not like they're hostile to each other, more like indifference, like somebody you work with, but never have any personal stake in. Maybe they thought these characters would be more realistic, but the fantastic situations are not. Several times big exploding catastrophes take place in what should be very public places, yet no one's around. The plot is convoluted and unexciting. Ifyou went in because you liked Cup and Cosby, you'll be disappointed in this downer.
The Lieutenant: To Kill a Man (1964)
One of the best entries in the series.
This installment finally has Rice leaving the California base where he trains men to fight in combat, and actually does some fighting himself. The battlefield was the smoldering powder keg of Viet Nam, only weeks away from large scale US involvement. He's on temporary duty, delivering valuable knowledge about a radar-like device, when he's shot down by Viet Cong in a transport helicopter with a small group of other marines. They're overtaken by the guerrillas, and all are killed except Rice, and, in due time,one other passenger, a traitor in an American uniform, who prevented Rice's death at the massacre to obtain Rice's secret information. At one point he tries to justify why he fights for a communist take-over, and his contempt for Democracy with reasoning like, "We can't eat ballots!" At length, Rice out-wits and finally kills his trigger happy adversary, and some R & R is his back in the city. Things like a friendly but gruff fellow from HQ and an oriental stewardess he runs into twice, and that somehow he can't make his return flight yet, indicate pretty obviously they intended that a second season would be full of action and these new characters. But it must have just had no chance with any potential sponsors, so Lieutenant Rice's career ends with but one kill to his name. Too bad, it was fun while it lasted.
Overlooked but important World War Two title
This film, created in Britain with a view toward influencing American sentiment in the months before Pearl Harbor, uses animation in a then unusual way, that is, a serious subject. The earlier Hugh Harmon cartoon "Peace On Earth" (MGM 1939) would seem to be in some part inspiration for this, but here we see not only rotoscoped soldiers and battle scenes, but offers for the first time a comic animated Hitler with a broad Katzenjammer accent (by Mel Blanc). Adolf would be kicked around in many cartoons to come, but this is probably the only cartoon with a negative (though tepid) Josef Stalin caricature. He is seen congratulating Hitler at the time of their pact to carve up Poland. When Hitler departs, Joe asides a gesture to his pet black bear of a slice across the throat. That both men conspired to divvy up Poland goes unaddressed in all other wartime films.
Less than fearless.
Inspired by the recent (1951) televised crime hearings lead by Senator Estes Kefauver, Philco Playhouse looks at the most famous government corruption scandal up to that time, New York's Tammany Hall excesses in the nineteenth century. "Boss" Tweed managed to run a machine that put in place his hand picked crooks and violent thugs to run the city's justice system, the treasury and the board of elections and even the Mayor himself. Huge sums of money were stolen, and only exposure of the secret account books by newspaper men led to their downfall.
This play is unfortunately a very tepid effort, for even eighty years later, they tip toed on eggshells. They went to great lengths to never say the word "Democrat", which they all were. Tammany still apparently had power in 1952. Another thing they forced themselves to avoid is any mention of the fearless campaign against Tweed by the magazine "Harper's Weekly", where to this day the Thomas Nast cartoons of Tweed are considered milestones in journalism history. But Harper's went belly up in 1916 and the N.Y. Times was still around.
Spanish doesn't make Free And Easy better.
Estrellados could have improved on it's English-language original, but the MGM factory mentality deemed changes from the script as unwanted tampering, so they got the same movie twice, this time without blondes. There are some very small differences. For one, Buster loses his hat for a second when he's told to move the car at the premiere and he doesn't hit the car behind him. The entire scene with Karl Dane filming the mine explosion stunt is absent, but we are shown the first part of the "story" behind the musical comedy being shot at the studio. After we see Keaton being made up for the part, It seems he's an aviator that gets lost in Trixie Friganza's wacky kingdom. (in this version she's not a queen, but a "Gran Duquesa")She has him made her consort, and then we see most of the rest of the Free And Easy footage, dubbed en Español. The song "Free and Easy" is just eliminated, and we cut to Raquel's watching face, then back to Buster doing the dancing part after the song had been sung. There's a lot of recycled, dubbed bits and pieces, but also same scenes filmed a few feet to one side, as they would shoot two negatives at once to save costs. Other scenes are second takes. They also rather poorly matched up Maria Calvo supposedly being made up to be in the big number, but it's almost insulting to think they want us to see Trixie Friganza AS her. Trix must be twice her size! Mustashioed Don Alvarado suddenly, jarringly becomes clean-shaven Gringo Robert Montgomery in long shots! Strangest surprise was seeing slapstick battle-Axe Blanche Payson speak Spanish, and equally formidable cohort Louise Carver does some German like in the original, but here adds some French! In the finale, over the strains of "Free and Easy" the chorus sings an obviously hastily written "ES-TREE-ADOS" in it's place. Buster has no flair for speaking Spanish, he sounds like he's reciting memorized lists of syllables.Interesting novelty, but it's not a great film to start with.
The Joy Girl (1927)
A very usual film.
This film only exists in the Czechoslovakian print, and has yet (in 2014)to have it's titles restored to English. The Technicolor sequence, I believe,was a long pan of the palm beach crowds out on a boardwalk, now only in black & white.
Marie Dressler has one short scene as a buyer in Madge Bellamy's hat shop, where she's tricked into buying a quickly constructed chapeau in the belief it is a Parisian original, thanks to a fake label.
The best scene is when the cad that married her reveals himself, and Neil Hamilton, just barely controlling himself from punching out the villain. Though Olive and the settings are very attractive, and the rich-folk automobiles and clothes are impressive, the melodramatic story was pretty stale even then, with little excitement now, and the overall direction tepid.
Contains spoilers. The tension builds up as to just why the hero ex-officer's wife is so vehemently against his participation in a Hollywood film based on his world war two exploits. we see her hostility to Rice when the initial invitation is made, see it grow in intensity in further encounters, and halfway through the programme, in an intimate scene between the hero and his wife, they anxiously dance around the reason for all this angst without actually saying anything to give us a clue to what the mystery's about. Finally, she breaks down meeting Rice again, finally blurting out that he wasn't even at the scene of the heroic deed.
The big secret we waited for is that he was innocently en route to the scene, and everyone assumed he was there, so he isn't really guilty at all because he was not trying to deceive anyone.
It seems like they wanted to have it both ways-put a marine's cowardice exposed and still be heroic. Disappointing.
A Convict's Happy Bride (1920)
Great gags and camera-work, plot incomprehensible.
SPOILERS INCLUDED. The Reelcraft films can be very inventive and full of surprises, and this is one of the good ones. In it, charmingly dumpy, doughy Alice Howell is married to nervous, manic Phil Dunham and their boy is future Our Gang star Jackie Condon. Their furnishings are being hauled off because apparently bills aren't being paid. The furniture has been giving them strange problems anyway, like a dining room table that spins like a phonograph turntable and a fold-up bed that folds on them. After some confusion, it looks as if the mover has been shot to death and Phil's imprisoned in the penitentiary that's only feet from the house. The bad guy was just faking it, and though Phil gets to go home for lunch every day, Alice is lonely. So the bad guy takes her out riding where she barely escapes his attacking her. Dunham makes an escape of his own, and the police finally put things right when the so-called murder weapon turns out to be a toy pistol. Perhaps a piece is missing in the surviving print, but how come the gun being exposed as a fake is better evidence that a crime has NOT been committed than the victim ISN'T dead?