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Buck Jones' Mexican Accent, 3 May 2015

Buck Jones plays Joaquin Murietta, the Robin Hood of California. It depends on whose side you come down on whether the real Murietta was a gangster or a patriot to oppressed Mexicans against the evil Anglos. he records indicate he killed more Chinese than Caucasians, so your mileage may vary.

This one comes down squarely on Murietta's side when his brother (played in a very early role by Paul Fix) is lynched and Jones seeks revenge as "The Black Shadow." Although the story and Jones' accent never rise above adequate, there are some pleasures in this Columbia B. Director Roy William Neill is best remembered for directing Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in several of the pair's later screen Sherlock Holmes movies. Neill had started in the silents and spent most of the 1930s at Columbia, making visually striking films on small budgets. His strong grounding in telling stories visually in evident throughout, particularly about 20 minutes in, where he rescues Miss Revier from a horse stampede.

Up in the Air, Sky High, 2 May 2015

This Gaston Velle movie from 1904 was a fairly venturesome piece of film-making for the era. First, its credits include Jules Verne: his second after the Melies TRIP TO THE MOON a couple of years earlier. Second, it uses a dozen cuts, irised lenses -- the balloonists' views through their telescope -- panning shots, combined images and tints. The tints were standard for the era, but everything else had to be achieved with great difficulty. In an era when most movies still lasted a minute with a stationary camera and a single set-up, this was pretty much state of the art.

It wouldn't last. In another half a dozen years the movie grammar that George Smith had begun developing in Great Britain would render this antique junk, with its parts stripped for entirely different purposes in the movie. But for the moment, this was as good as it got.

I Don't Think the Fleischers Were Cat People, 2 May 2015

I don't think any cartoon makers liked cats. Even though almost every studio turned out a version of the Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens, the prevalence of cartoon mice from long before Disney came u with Mickey meant that cats were the enemy. Add in the occasional dog in cartoons and it meant that cartoons took on an ailurophobic air that extended to newspaper cartoons.Surely not even Jim Davis likes Garfield.

So this cartoon about how Betty Boop brings home an enormous black cat who terrorizes Pudgy is fairly standard. Of course, Pudgy takes all the blame until Betty chains him outside and the cat opens the ice box to steal a turkey is a natural. Too bad that Betty had been destroyed by the Production Code. The Fleischers could no longer do anything interesting with her, so they saddled her with cute sidekicks like Pudgy and Grampy. Unfortunately the Fleischers didn't do cute so well. They did funny, and this one isn't because everyone is trying to be cute.

Philandering Within the Production Code, 1 May 2015

Hard-working, moral Jean Muir agrees to marry millionaire construction worker Warren Hull, but then has pal Beverly Roberts assigned as his secretary. The usual problems occur this decent but unremarkable Warner B. It shows signs of having been conceived as a Screwball Comedy, but never really gets silly enough. It has sexy elements, but while we get to see Miss Muir in her slip and Beverly Roberts examining a stocking with a run in it, there's no interior awareness of sex. It's a bloodless and rote example of the genres that depends more on melodrama than psychology. Even Harry Davenport is subdued.

I blame a muddled script, which seems to indicate that Crane Wilbur had seen Claire Booth's THE WOMEN on stage and had been ambitious, until Brian Foy had assigned a total four screenwriters, Frank MacDonald to the director's chair and set a decent but definitely non-stellar cast. Four years earlier, this would ave been a sexy, racy piece, but the Production Code had cut out the heart of the matter from the movies and had substituted shiny habit.

The Persistence of Vision and Celebrity, 1 May 2015

It's one of several films released of Buffalo Bill Cody, famed hero of the Wild West...

Or was he? His celebrity, which still survives to this day, isn't based on his being a buffalo hunter in the 1860s. There were many of those, and Cody is about the only one we know of. His continued celebrity rests on his having been a canny showman and publicist, portrayed in Dime Novels, Wild West Shows bearing his name, movies like this and ANNIE OAKLEY, Broadway shows like ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, television (go check the IMDb listing for "Buffalo Bill Cody" and you'll find over fifty listings for the character), a screen actor who went under the name of "Buffalo Bill Jr."...

You name it, it's there. Because there is a persistence of celebrity, just like there is a persistence of momentum. Sometimes celebrity continues, even when the reasons for it have vanished. There seem to be people famous just for being famous. You hear someone say "Look! It's Buffalo Bill Cody!" and point and that's how you know him. Later, you point and say it too.

Anyway, is one s from a paper print at the Library of Congress. It's impossible to make out any details. Perhaps one day they'll use the new transfer machines to make a better print and we will be able to see William F. Cody in sharp detail. It makes little difference either way.

Big Cheese (1930)
Good Soundtrack, 30 April 2015

A Bowery tough prepares for and fights a boxing match in this very late Paul Terry production for Van Beuren.

John Foster had already taken over for Terry, who had been producing cartoons for himself for half a year. His credit as director may have been purely contractual at this point. The question of who deserves the credit, this synchronized cartoon is an interesting experiment. Gene Rodemich's score has an offhand, improvised texture to it, running from bits of Lehar to Zez Confrey seemingly driving the choice of gags as well as the pace. Perhaps that's why Mickey Mouse wanders onto the scene to beat up a character. Uncle Walt would deal with that via lawsuits.

To Be Better, 29 April 2015

Ernestine Schumann-Heink sings selections from Der Erlkonig, "Trees", and "Pirate Dreams" in this Vitaphone short subject.

Madame Schumann-Heink was one of those people famous for a high-brow art who dabbled in low-brow stuff like movies and singing "Stille Nacht" every Christmas over the radio. It wasn't slumming. It was a combination of missionary work, elevating the masses, and a sense that art was a continuum and that it didn't hurt the fan of low-class jazz to listen to opera. He might like it.

Of course there was a snobbery involved. Madame was considered a great artist and people should listen to her, like her or not, and eat their spinach. Avoid that awful Louis Armsrong and collard greens.

Still, there is a pleasure to listening to Madame's careful Germanic handling of these subjects. Try it. You might like it.

Lived A Miner, 49er, 26 April 2015

Hoppy is on his way heading to New York for a vacation. However, there's trouble at a mine owned by the widow of a friend of his, so it's up to him, Gabby Hayes and Russell Hayden to sort out matters in this, the 19th of the long-running series.

The regulars are in their usual form in this one, with Gabby Hayes particularly amusing, but Gwen Gaze as the widow is poor in her line readings and it is up to the usually stolid William Boyd to go even quieter in his scenes with her to avoid overwhelming her. For the rest, it is a typically well produced effort, with decent camera-work Russel Harlan. Fans of the series will have a fine time and newcomers to B westerns will find it amusing.

Sundheit mach Frei, 25 April 2015

There was a Great Exhibition in Dusseldorf in 1926 for health care, physical care and social care called Gesolei for short -- the way Germans get around those agglutinative jawbreakers when they don't have all week. This short animated film was a commercial that Ruttmann and other experimental film makers working with him came up with for publicity.

I don't know how effective it was among the population. I do know that I had to look up "Gesolei" on Wikipedia to figure it out. Considering the images, without the context, it seemed to offer the thought that there was a lot of blood shed during the First World War; now a lot of sports were being played by people with artificial hands and legs. Gesolei! I suppose if you knew about it, it would remind you of the Exhibition.

America's Song Stylist, 25 April 2015

That's how Arthur Jarrett, who sings three songs in this Fleischer Screen Song is credited. He is a tenor who sings "Silent Love" "One Hour with You" and the Betty Boop theme. Betty appears briefly, bopping along to Jarrett's singing.

Like most of the Screen Songs of this period, it's animators Myron Waldman and Willard Bowsky who did the actual work. At the Fleischers, brother Dave was credited as director of all the cartoons. However, in reality, he served as supervising producer, telling his staff to cram in another couple of gags.

Although Mr. Jarrett's singing is rather bland in the style then current, the set-up is amusing: a man is trying to paint, b the kids are making too much noise, so they all travel to the country. The ending sequence is a bizarre sequence of bits with a rather threatening ending. Although not the best of the Screen Songs, it's a solid piece and, as usual, very watchable

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