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Why Be Good? (1929)
A Colleen Moore movie.
Here's a great representation of Colleen Moore and her work. A good good girl that dares to pretend to be a bad good girl who gets to the very edge of the precipice, but the good girl in her won't let her take the dive. A lesson is learned, the good goodness pays off in the end, and the equally virtuous boy prize is copped fair and square. This happens too many times to not be intentional. The same story is told and told yet again. The anxiety of whether she might slip kept her fans in suspense through the late silent era. She's adorable, and the films are fun, which is what a movie should offer, of course, but it seems to me Miss Moore, her great popularity of the time not withstanding, left no great films. In this typical effort, nothing new or especially memorable happens, it's just THE Colleen Moore movie once again.
This restoration has some problems, It seems to have titles retranslated from the Italian source material, with strange attempts at flaming youth patois like calling somebody a "Big Team" or a "Greasy Brat". The repeated reference to booze as "Wine", would indicate what the Italians had them drinking, and Colleen is introduced as an American girl, a needless point, except that it's another holdover from the original.
Heavy handed puffery.
The intention of this documentary was, one would suppose, to show Miss Novak as a smart, exciting star, more than just a pretty face, though the "sex queen" type platitudes are heaped on. But it almost seems like a satire of over the top publicity department drivel. She actually narrates about her moody seriousness, how she (apparently a' la Garbo) needs to spend time all alone at her Malibu Beach mansion, indulging in her so-intense artiness, her poetry and paintings. These include a fuzzy portrait of her mother, that (despite her being still alive enough to also appear later)is supposed to show how her love transcends death(!) After expressing her burning need to be by herself, she cavorts with a central casting mob of artsy beatnik types on the beach. She tells us that she can't get around without the public bothering her because she's so important and famous. She avoids this horror by wearing a brunette wig and movie star shades. To get away from the rabble, she's shown at Macy's department store in New York amidst Christmas sale crowds! That the segment is composed of enough multiple camera set-ups to make a feature film sort of deflates her supposed hunger for anonymity. What to get out of all this? My take is we're seeing a shallow phony going through some scripted pretensions to look deep and interesting.
Part two of this series is much like the first in that they didn't put any effort into researching their subject. First off, W.C. Fields must have been the producer's favorite, as he gets a second full scene in this installment. Most of the other comedians here are nothing more than a lightning-fast few frames enough to cover the length of time their names can be spoken. Still, Hal Roach and his productions go unmentioned. Most likely, the big issue that Wolper always had was being cheap. Roach, or many other sources would charge for their use, so they didn't make the cut.
The footage used is mainly public domain material, like the Abbott & Costello part is from an Army newsreel. The Bob Hope and Martin & Lewis stuff is not performance footage, but PR stuff from a newsreel or "Screen Snapshots" origin. The (non actor) Madx4 World footage must have been supplied for the fee plug value.
Another sloppy, ill-researched effort.
It would seem these documentaries were made as fast as possible, or they had no interest in doing any fact finding when they assembled them. Here, Mack Sennett is the centre of the comedy universe, so important that stars that never had anything to do with him are rattled off in a roll call of all his discoveries. Bits of film showing stars supposedly in Sennett productions include Arbuckle, Sterling and Turpin from 1930's Vitaphone films. The superfast and confused montage of action clips are likely from the series of 1940's Warner Brothers compilations. The strangest part of this story is the total omission of the man who created some of the most beloved films of all time, in 1963 still very much alive, Hal Roach. All of his stars, Snub Pollard, Charlie Chase, and most glaring of all, Laurel and Hardy, go unmentioned. This can't be by chance, they're telling 25% of the story. What was on their minds?
Hollywood and the Stars (1963)
Early history of history
This series was made so long ago that it is often given more importance than it deserves. Maybe as I'm long in the tooth enough to remember when it was new, it affords me a certain perspective. Then, I saw it as fascinating, and hung on every word, taking it in as important material, committing the information to memory. I also wondered why it was so unimportant to the people I knew who lived through those earlier eras of film.
Having a chance to view these again after a span of forty-odd years(they had a syndication afterlife for a while) makes me realize a few things that went past me originally. For one thing, the overall tone reflects what those mature people in the 1960s had-the subject was a trivial one. Old movies were very important to me, but in 1963, movies were all just yesterday's already done trifles. The point of the series was for middle aged folks to have an undemanding dose of nostalgia. It definitely was not a serious, scholarly effort. It's embarrassing how much careless misinformation and errors back up the various topics. Thye were leaving out and making up stuff.
Only seeing these again caused me to realize why I had so many confused ideas when I started doing serious film research- I retained the sloppy stories from this series! It would take much more sincere documentarians later to make something worthy of it's subject.
Not to be taken seriously as a documentary.
As typical of many David Wolper documentaries, this one really seems to be a sloppily made quickie. The cute subtitle probably is an illusion to a popular musical comedy of the time, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Keeping in that vein, a not-too-serious approach is used. They did no research on this, and it's full of misinformation, including the years that incidents occurred in. It tells us that the gangster film began with Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar (1931), and after a flood of shooting, chasing and other violent outbursts from miscellaneous (apparently all Warner Bothers) films, they conclude the "Gangster Cycle" ended 1940 with Robinson in "Brother Orchid", a film where a gangster seeks redemption as a monk. How ironic, and untrue. Weren't there important flicks in this genre before and after the 1930's? Sure there were- but to have some enforced happy ending was on their minds. If this was too subtle, the finale is a chunk of Cagney's flag waving number from "Yankee Doodle Dandy", a movie that has nothing to do with gangsters, unless we confuse Cagney the actor as an actual gangster, reformed as a song and dance man in a movie.
Wallace tries to elicit serious answers about Dali's views on topics ranging from the meaning of his famous works, including "Persistence Of Memory" and "Face Of War" to his Catholic faith. But Dali by this time had down pat his spacey, semi-ethereal genius persona. He speaks of himself in the third person and how inspiring he is to himself, and gives incoherent nuggets of faux-deep philosophy like how he admires weakness, and how words have no meaning to him. He asks why he should be surprised if he orders a lobster at a restaurant and they bring him a cooked telephone. They talk about some of his publicity stunts like giving a lecture wearing a closed deep sea diver helmet.
It's remarkable that Dali was ever taken seriously, everything he did or painted became a stunt for attention. Supposedly great artists don't go on game shows, or speak intentional nonsense like in this programme.He must have struck a lot of easily fooled people that all this cartoony strangeness was brilliance.
Oh! What a Day! (1923)
Lots of action, not so much sense.
Here's a classic example of the inferior quality of the Universal shorts, even at a time when they were putting a few dollars into it. The story is as thin as a one sentence summary; " The Gumps go to an amusement park, and then go home." It's packed with contrived, obvious gags like: switching out a blown tire on his car, the balloon on the replacement is already ruptured, so he cuts away that section. Nowhere to go, it apparently meant no further problems, so off they go. He goes fishing, and to keep a caught fish "quiet", he produces a heretofore unseen rifle and lets go with a blast that puts a hole in the bottom of the boat they're in. He doesn't notice until he's underwater. Walking along later, they encounter the midway guess-your-weight guy. Apropos of nothing, Andy asks him to allow him to guess the weight of a fat woman nearby. He says go ahead, and then, confronted by the woman, Andy's all flustered and nervous as if he's been forced to do it. Of course, he overstates her poundage, so she slugs him, but getting to a quick burst of violence at any cost in logic or coherence is not worth it. Also, the ghastly phony noses on Andy and Uncle Bim are stunning.
Another straw man vanquished.
Here's a fine example of one's opponents controlling the perception of the other side. It was done much more cerebrally back in the days of Barry Goldwater, when those evil conservatives were considered to have an intellectual dimension. In this case, the bad guy is an advanced law school student, who's psychologically deranged about the fact that his teacher is a liberal,(unusually, the term "Liberal" is used, "Conservative" is not)a foreigner that changed his name (though nothing is said as to him possibly being a Jew, we just aren't given any more information than he's from Poland)and worst of all, he insists that there be an element of mercy guiding court judgments, especially in death penalty cases.
Sounds reasonable, but crazy conservative insists on death every time. The always-given hypocrisy of conservatives is revealed here because he's tried to have the Professor murdered. An early depiction of equating conservatives with criminality.
Mothers of Men (1917)
Exploitive pot boiler.
This story involves the seldom seen, if ever phenomenon of a female jurist in those days who is eventually pitted in court against her lawyer husband and later, he's sentenced for a murder he didn't commit, just as she's about to have a baby. It's sheer mawkish mush for those who enjoy a good cry, a typical silent cheapie, with semi-or non- distinguished actors, and unimaginative direction. How come scene after scene has everyone tightly grouped together, so all will be in the shot, even in a larger room? It has strange touches like repeatedly reminding us that the newspaper the bad guy editor edits is called the Democrat, and the weep-insurance of having an utterly gratuitous blind sister, overplayed by a gal that has never seen a blind individual. Like many low budget, states-rights pictures, it has a pretentious but mystifying name, "Mothers of Men" being a phrase usually used in connection with the mothers of soldiers. Here it seems like a copyrighted in advance name. Another classic States rights characteristic was they re-released it with a new name a few years later, now with the equally abstruse alias, "Every Woman's Problem" which by the fantastic novelty of the story would mean the title is the exact opposite of the subject shown.