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The Keystone Firemen, 2 September 2014

In this short subject the boys are firemen who succeed in burning down the fire station. Not that in this case they started the fire, but their response time leaves a lot to be desired even for the Three Stooges.

It all starts innocently enough for the boys, they're told the fireman's picnic is coming and to get things spic and span even their two white horses. Only Moe, Larry, and Curly would think of sending the horses and themselves to get cleaned up.

This short subject is something of a Keystone Kops reunion with brothers Chester and Heinie Conklin in the cast. With Chief Chester leading the response to a fire in their own station is hilarious.

One wonders if the ancestors of the Three Stooges were part of the Rome Volunteer Fire Department when Nero burned the city.

Not according to the code of the west, 1 September 2014

There seems to be a lot of the same kind of people that inhabit the town that Hugh O'Brian is the sheriff of as there were in High Noon where Gary Cooper was the law. O'Brian gets about the same amount and kind of support that Cooper did.

The Brass Legend has Sheriff O'Brian getting a tip from young Donald MacDonald that notorious outlaw Raymond Burr is in the area and keeping company with a lewd saloon woman Rebecca Welles. Before they get down to business O'Brian has the drop on Burr.

Well by God this is not according to the code of the west where you're supposed to face the bad guy down and maybe get killed. Bad enough that Welles believes it and makes no secret about it, but half the town thinks like she does and thinks that Burr got a raw deal.

Further they don't like that O'Brian tried to keep young MacDonald's name out of it thinking that one of Burr's friends might want to shoot the snitch even if he's 12 years old. Sure enough a particular low life specimen does.

O'Brian is a stalwart hero in the mold of Wyatt Earp whom he just started playing on television. Burr is always an interesting villain and Welles as the vengeful saloon woman is fascinating.

The Brass Legend a good B western, fans of O'Brian and Burr will not be disappointed.

Texas Guinan in Panama, 1 September 2014

Sensation Hunters is a pre-code melodrama set in the tropics of the Panama Canal Zone. The action mostly centers around Trixie's Bull Pit a kind of upscale dive owned by Juanita Hansen who is Texas Guinan like character for the low brows.

Two women are going to work there, good time girl Arline Judge and newcomer Marian Nixon. The girls are kind of on the menu there as well and millionaire aviator Kenneth McKenna. He might be the answer to Nixon's prayers, but it doesn't work out that way.

Preston Foster who I usually enjoy is completely wasted in a role that only calls for him to be a shoulder that Nixon cries on. The whole story despite its trash setting is an old fashioned Victorian melodrama not likely to be revived

Nor should it.

Corruption (1933)
Mr. Smith Goes To City Hall, 1 September 2014

If you've seen the story of Corruption before you certainly have. Six years later Frank Capra took this story once again before the movie going public and it went from City Hall in your average American city to the Halls of the U.S. Senate in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

A corrupt political party who is headed by Tully Marshall and Warner Richmond thinks they've found themselves a naive young man in Preston Foster as their town's new Mayor. But Foster fools them and starts reforming things. That's something the local machine won't stand for and Foster is soon out as Mayor and first framed on a morals charge and then when that doesn't stick, he gets framed for Richmond's murder.

Foster is Jefferson Smith if he was a mayor instead of a senator. Bright certainly and honest to a fault, but a bit of a fathead as well in not seeing these obvious temptations put in his path. He passes up good girl Evelyn Knapp who is his loyal secretary for the charms of Natalie Moorehead who is Marshall's secretary. And the frame the bad guys put him in with Gwen Lee, I mean really Preston, you're supposed to know about the birds and the bees.

Marshall has a most interesting role as the millionaire/philanthropist who provides the veneer of polish the machine needs. His observations on the nature of man are interesting. And Mischa Auer as a dedicated immigrant doctor are worth noting.

Corruption is a poverty row studio product, but its parallel to the Frank Capra classic are unmistakable.

Cougar at large, 31 August 2014

The short-lived trans-Atlantic studio Eagle-Lion gave both the English and American moviegoers this Depression Era tale of a young man going to live in the wilds of Wyoming to escape the growing poverty and joblessness in Philadelphia where he's from. He's got an uncle there in Forrest Tucker, but goes to live with his mother's old boyfriend Preston Foster who has a place. Foster and Tucker aren't exactly best friends and living between both of them and trying to keep peace is preacher/farmer Irving Bacon and his wife Sarah Haden and their daughter Peggy Ann Garner. Of course she prefers McCallister to Tucker's oafish kids Skip Homeier and Gene Reynolds.

It's bad times like every where else. There's a drought, but also a mountain lion eating stock everywhere. The government has put a bounty on the cougar and Foster wants to collect it as he could use the money to jump start his ranch with significant timber holdings. Of course so could everyone else use the bounty money in those troubled times.

The film is in bad need of restoration to bring out the lush color location cinematography. But without any truly big names in the cast the film I'm sure is far down the pecking order. The cast gives some decent performances with McCallister and Garner a nice young couple the audience can identify with.

When it's restored I'm sure The Big Cat will be fine family viewing.

Thriller at sea, 31 August 2014

Talk about atmospheric thriller, Val Lewton with a fairly unknown cast and a leading man whose box office days are behind him came up with a gem of a thriller at sea. The Ghost Ship stars Richard Dix as the captain of the freighter Altair and Russell Wade as his eager new third officer who sees some distinct flaws in the man whom he admired and was eager to serve under.

On his first voyage some deaths among the crew start Wade thinking, but his doubts are resolved when Nick Stuart a happy go lucky Greek is killed when he's locked in an anchor chain room. It could only be deliberate and it could only be Dix.

The Ghost Ship is a combination of Eugene O'Neill and Edgar Allan Poe in its conception. The camaraderie and dialog among the crew is like something out of The Long Voyage Home. The sea is a great equalizer in the crew. The captain may be Lord and Master, but in the crew all are equal. Note the part played by black actor Sir Lancelot which is a rarity of Hollywood at the time. He's from Trinidad and he's an equal in this company. Very rare for 1943.

But Dix has let the whole Lord and Master thing goes to his head. Quite clear in his scenes with Wade as Wade starts to suspect. The rest of the crew, dare not even if they think it in the deepest parts of their souls. Mutiny is a hanging offense..

Wonderful atmosphere, great performances as Val Lewton gets the most out of the limited budgets he had.

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Permanent state of agitation, 31 August 2014

This will be the first time I review a Robin Williams film since his passing and I notice that he has several projects yet to be released. Each one will be a painful reminder of how much we lost, Williams was a never ending spring of zany talent.

Sad to say also that in this film though Williams delivers a superb performance the guy who really should have done this film has not been with us for 14 years. Walter Matthau was born to play the lead in this film and he's passed also.

If Robin Williams isn't mad at something he'd have to invent a reason. In The Angriest Man In Brooklyn Williams is a 60 something man who lost one of his two sons a few years back and now remains in a permanent state of agitation.

But this is a day that he gets the worst news of all, but he doesn't break his stride one bit. Unfortunately he gets a substitute doctor to read him his diagnosis of a brain aneurysm and Mila Kunis is having a bad day herself. As Williams starts pressing her buttons Kunis blurts out you have 90 minutes.

So for the rest of the film Kunis is chasing Williams trying to rectify her time error. And Williams is out painfully finding out that he's pushed friends and family so far away that the only one who really cares it seems is this doctor who was a total stranger this morning.

Terminal diagnosis is not usually a subject for humor, but we're dealing with Robin Williams here. The best comedy in the film centers around Williams and Kunis with an Uzbek cabdriver whom he opened the film with before. I have to say Kunis really gets into the spirit of Williams character when he meets the Uzbek again. Williams also as a nice scene with James Earl Jones who takes a small role as a stuttering salesman in a camera shop.

With a lot of Williams films you get a torrent of feelings some of them working at cross section in your mind. He's not a lovable man, but in the end you understand him sort of. Life can grind you down over the years and it certainly was true of him.

This fortunately is not the swan song of Robin Williams. Let's hope that the unreleased work keeps up this standard.

Robots from Venus, 31 August 2014

An advance party of a robot army from Venus has invaded earth choosing as its ground zero an unnamed midwest city. The city has been evacuated but some folks have been left behind. Kathleen Crowley, Richard Denning, Richard Reeves and Virginia Grey for one reason or another missed the evacuation.

Action switches back from the story of these four to the scientists and military trying desperately to find a way to defeat these seemingly invincible metal creatures.

There are holes a plenty in this cheap science fiction film. But I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the quartet of survivors. They are really what Target Earth a real treat.

Reed Family Values, 30 August 2014

For a modest little B picture When I Grow Up packs a lot of heart string tugging punch. Sam Spiegel produced this when he was operating under S.P. Eagle and screenwriter Michael Kanin got his only directorial credit for the screen.

This is the story of two generations of Reeds, present day 1951 with Harry Morgan and Elizabeth Fraser trying to raise Bobby Driscoll whom they see as willfully disobedient. Living with them is Morgan's father and Driscoll's grandfather Charley Grapewin. After a hand wringing session with Morgan and Fraser about how are we going to deal with this rebellious kid, Grapewin goes up to the attic and finds a diary he kept as a kid.

As he reads his thoughts back then we're transported to 1892 and now Grapewin's role is also played by Driscoll. He's being brought up by a very stern father in Robert Preston and a deferring wife in Martha Scott. He also as a little sister in Sherry Jackson who delights in tormenting him and the parents always take her side. She's daddy's little girl and everyone knows it. Watching Preston he's far from the charming conman Harold Hill who was operating in Iowa in this era.

The influence of Mark Twain is unmistakable here as Driscoll slips neatly into a Tom Sawyer like childhood. The Huckleberry Finn of the story is Johnny McGovern whom Driscoll's parents warn about associating with such disreputable people. McGovern's mom is reputed to be a lady of easy virtue.

A decision by the boys to run away and join the circus has an impact that's felt two generations away. That's all I can say about how the lives of Charley Grapewin and his grandson are affected, but affected they are.

The closest film I could compare this with is A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Nostalgia to be sure, but tempered with a very hard realism about what life was like in semi-rural setting for Driscoll and an urban setting for the Nolan family in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.

When I Grow Up hasn't got the production values a major studio could have given it. But the ensemble cast is just about perfect in their roles and it will get the tear glands working.

Giants from history, 30 August 2014

This episode shows how truly tired the Star Trek writers were getting. At least twice before William Shatner was captured by aliens and put into combat situations for some gain or amusement of superior aliens. In this one he has Leonard Nimoy for company and a pair of giants from earth and Vulcan history. Lee Bergere and Barry Atwater playing Abraham Lincoln and Surak the founder of Vulcan logic philosophy.

Some volcanic rock creatures with some amazing powers have decided to see what the concepts of good and evil are all about. They also recreate four people who are considered villains in universal history.

Really though, to make this truly even as it seems only contemporary good had anything to lose I would have had two people defined as evil in the Star Trek world also competing. That would have made it more interesting.

Star Trek prime was grinding to a halt and this is why.

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