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No Lady (1931)
ANOTHER GOOD Sunday Matinée
The movie itself is really only about a 5, but for me, when Lupino Lane really gets going, he can do no wrong.
For several years now, I have found myself bored to death over movies that are directed to be more concerned with presenting their "story" than with what they DO with the narrative. Most movies are written by a bunch of hack writers anyway, and few stories have any depth or value to them that can keep me engaged. RATHER, I am interested in any movie that allows truly talented actors to show off their skills.
Now it turns out that Lupino Lane is as good an acrobat as Buster Keaton, and probably as good a pantomimist and dancer as Chaplin or Lloyd. So here I am delighted to find a featurette that really displays his talentsand in a talking picture while the actor is still at his prime, no less.
Not that it couldn't have been even better, but... you can't have everything (although I'll never know why).
Fortunately, there is enough innocent silliness, cartoonishness, pantomime, acrobatics and else at play here, and briskly moving along at a pace to keep my interest.
If you don't know Lupino Lane, you might want to start with a wonderful compilation of clips from his movies, with super music, on the DVD "SlapHappy: Vol 1 (3 Funnymen...)".
If you find those clips amazing, astounding and hilarious, then you should try out some complete silents. After that, if you, like I, cannot possibly get too much Lupino Lane, then you should check out this movie (you can buy it at Amazon UK).
Panama Hattie (1942)
A Single Kernel of Wheat Among the Chaff
That single kernel, that one diamond hidden in the dirt, is an excellent little dance routine by the three comedians. More about that later.
This is one of those movies constructed in a way I most loathethe characters talk their way through an unpleasant story that bores me to death, and unsympathetic characters (Ann Southern doesn't get along with a child; how unsympathetic can you get????). In amongst all this are three highly-talented comedians, and a bunch of speciality song-and-dance numbers.
I hate specialty numbers. I don't want to see the Berry Brothers jump from a 20-foot high mezzanine into split position during a gratuitous dance. It would be so much better if they did these acrobatics as part of a story, like Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd. But... no. I also hate being dragged away from the only real reason I am watching a movieto see my favorite comedians. I hated it when Hal Roach did this to Laurel & Hardy and I hate it in this movie.
But one sceneONE number is the sole reason to keep this DVD. About 31 minutes in, Red, Rags and Ben do a characterful little dance. Now I've been searching to find out if Red Skelton could really dancehe said once that he could dance, but I've never seen him do a good number in his TV shows nor in all the movies I've seen so far; and I've wanted to see Ben Blue do a nice numberbecause I wondered how someone so contrived could have been a successful performer (and it was obvious that he was a great dancer).
Well, here it is, for a very, very, MUCH TOO SHORT moment or two, the comedians get to do some real dancing. This is dancing with technique, but also infused with great personality and THAT is the dancing I like to see!
For the rest of the movie... meh. I don't see why people like Ann Southernshe has a voice like a kazoo and she doesn't do much with her dancing. Her character is unlikeable, she's not funny, and I do not find her attractive. She is very irritating. I also find Virginia O'Brien extremely boring. The comedy trio is good when they dance, but the rest of time...
...I would actually have preferred to see the Three Stooges doing their sketches!! Especially the one about being in the spooky spy house. Red, Rags and Ben are SO LAME here I couldn't believe it. The Stooges actually would have provided more energy, better pantomime, and better ensemble work.
Just Imagine (1930)
Visually Stunning and Marjorie White!
The sets are gorgeous and magnificent. The 'special effects' areVERY effective! The story is hallucinogenic and outrageous. The musical numbers are gratuitous and hilarious. The hairstyles, the clothes, the backdrops all may be nominally futuristic, but it's the future through a 1930's lensmy favorite decade in art and film. Everything is improbable and unbelievableand it's all delightfully pre-code and 100% politically incorrect.
What's there not to like?
El Brendel is really quite engaging. He takes several deft falls and acquits himself as a decent visual comedian. He even gets to do a multi-personality skit, which I'm assuming came from his Vaudeville shtick, so there is some historical interest to this.
And if you like Marjorie White, this is the movie for you! She has a pretty large roll in this movie. She mugs, she sings, she performs eccentric dancing, she pantomimes. As her usual spunky self, the first time we see Ms. White is on a tele-TV screen: she's in her underwear. Immediately upon appearing in-person, she takes off her clothes. Toward the finale she also gets a nice comic monologue. My only disappointment is that she doesn't manage to stow away on the spaceship to Mars (As a "guilty pleasure" I will to admit: I love the exotically-dressed Amazonian outer-space women of early "sci-fi" cinema. So the Martian Women are a plus here, not a minus!)
Admittedly, there are a few slow-ish shots. But even these work in the film's favoras Ms. White suddenly grabs the rear-seat of a man walking too slowly through the set, and thrusts him forward with the admonition to "get moving!"
Well, folks, "Just Imagine" now joins the ranks of much maligned movies that I actually enjoy enough to watch more than once, and which I will show to my friendsand of which they will heartily approve. This list includes: "Meet the Baron", "Three's A Crowd"; "A Pest from the West"; "Cuckoo on a Choo Choo", "Outer Space Jitters", "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars", and Larry Semon's "Wizard of Oz".
All we need is a pristine print; and since one was recently projected at David Packard's "Stanford Theatre", I certainly hope a copy gets printed onto Blu-Ray sometime soon!
Skirt Shy (1929)
High Marks for Improv
At first I thought this was a terrible film. The "script", as such, is nonexistent and nothing makes any sense at all. But I found all the characters delightful, cute and hilarious. Then it occurred to me: this WAS improvised, probably set up and shot in a day.
So, if you think of this as an elaborate theatre exercise, it becomes immensely enjoyable. Imagine sitting in a drama class while the leads of the school's drama team makes up this skit: wouldn't you laugh?
Now that I understand what this is really all about, "Skirt Shy" has become one of my favorite of the Hal Roach Langdon films.
Harry is given plenty of time just to do his shtick; little Nancy Dover is breathtakingly cute and more than a little orneryshe may be Harry's most perfect screen partner. She actually does what most of us have wanted to do at some point in a Langdon film: slap a little sense into him!
Tom Ricketts apparently was actually 76 years old when he made this film, and is a very funny guy, runs like hell and even does pratfalls(!). I actually wish they'd spent more camera-time on him.
May Wallace at 52 looks 82 but joins in the farce vigorously and swings a mean shovel; and whoever plays the cowboy is also good in his very over-the-top improv.
All these Hall Roach films of Harry Langdon need to be restored and made available for viewing. Langdon is exceptional with his voice, and actually funnier to me in sound than in his silent comedies, even though a few of the silents are better put-together.
The King (1930)
I completely agree with the review by "lowbrowstudio". I absolutely do not understand the criticisms of this movie. It is hysterical. The more i think about it, the funnier it seems to me, and every time I re-watch it (I've seen it about 5 times now) it actually seems even funnier than the time before.
Thelma Todd is stunning, and shows herself to be a superb comedienne in her own right and an excellent comic partner for Langdon. All the supporting actors are funny. The sets and production-values are striking, with what looks to be a cast of at least a hundred in the opening shots, and huge sets both indoors and outside. And Langdon is at his peak. He still looks exactly like the Little Elf of the silent movies, and has plenty of energy.
The idea that Langdon was lost in the world of scripts and talking pictures is an idiotic myth promulgated by James Agee. And the idea that Langdon lost the magic of his persona in his sound movies is a canard derived from reading too much and thinking too little (and perhaps a deficient sense of the absurd?). Notably, in his book on Langdon, William Schelly makes a lot of negative observations that are so utterly inaccurate that I have to question whether or not he ever actually SAW the films he was criticizing.
So, to be completely at odds with all the authors who have commented about Langdon working best in silence, I think his voice and all his little improvised verbal infantalisms add a whole new layer of personality to his character, as well as being extremely funny. Hal Roach must have been deaf and dumb (REALLY dumb) at the time he said that Langdon "wasn't so funny articulate." I think Langdon is incredibly effective in sound.
This film is as funny and continuously amusing to me as any true classic like Laurel & Hardy's "Brats" or Charley Chase's "Movie Night". And it is also BETTER than many of Langdon's own silent shorts (I've seen all of them that are known to exist). In fact, it has more life and laughs than most of his BEST silent shorts.
Just to slap some sense into myself, I re-watched all the 1920s shorts on the DVD set "Harry Langdon, Lost and Found". I wanted to get a tangible feel for how his "classic work" compared to the Hal Roach talkies and vice versa.
Now, maybe it's partly the goofy, and sometimes creepy and inappropriate music by the Snark Ensemble, but I rarely laughed and at times felt a little unresponsive to what I was watching. "Boobs in the Woods", "Feet of Mud" and "The Luck O' The Foolish" held my attention the best.
The finest of these movies have stories that are well thought-out with real dramatic sweep, meaningful climaxes, strong character-building and well-planned endings, all of which results in a very satisfying movie experience. But they are also sometimes a little TOO much of all this, and are a bit hard to sit through. I yearned for the music, sound effects, voices and dialogue, and the non-stop jokes of the Hal Roach talking films.
"The King" may not have the architecture of a classically-constructed comedy narrative, but it is ALIVE. It's like watching a roller-coaster ride. I also find myself laughing all the way through it, and I laugh to myself even now whenever I reflect about how absurd it all is. What do you NEED from a short, funny movie, anyway?
Of course this short does not have the purposeful narrative of the silent "Fiddlesticks", but it is NOT THAT KIND OF A FILM. This is a vignette, a slice of life, a Saroyan ( well, maybe that's going a bit too far, BUT it is that style ). And it's way funnier than "Fiddlesticks".
So why would I recommend this short to anyone? Why on earth not?? It's Harry Langdon and Thelma Todd at their best, and it's relentlessly fast and funny.
By whatever means, try to find this movie. Let's hope someday someone releases pristine prints of all the Hal Roach shorts; and, too, that ALL of Langdon's movies can be made available in high-quality prints. I will bet there are some other gems out there.
Yup, put me to sleep. I cannot imagine anyone actually wasting all 71 minutes of this movie's time to watch it. Has anyone who has seen this on VHS or DVD ever really watched it without ANY fast-forwarding? This is another example of the lead side of Hollywood's Golden Age. The only time this thing lit up for me was when Harry Langdon was on. And he is on screen very, very little. And they waste him.
Langdon is just as fascinating in 1938 as he was in the mid-1920s. But he has nothing to do. It appears he improvised what little time the writers and director gave him. And I have to give him credit; with nothing going for him, he is spellbinding to watch--for those few seconds here and there when he appears...
The movie is mostly the characters talking their way through the story, which I consider the worst kind of movie-making. The musical numbers are based on some nice surreal ideas, but the routines are too long and the dancing never takes off.
This is not even a movie for Langdon completists. Or Lupe Velez fans for that matter. (She only gets to rave and throw things one time in the whole movie, and then acts embarrassed about it.)
Would someone PLEASE convince SOMEBODY to release Langdon's Hal Roach shorts?!
Better Luck Next Time?
Although I could not understand the storyline, and found most of the actors' speaking absolutely unintelligible, I enjoyed the overall concept, the perfect choice of music, and all them pretty pictures. And the dolphin song. The movie was a pleasant if befuddling event.
Instead of dragging down the comedy with the lumpy and inexpressive performances of Martin Freeman and Mos Def, imagine how the movie would have been infinitely enlivened if they could have hired a young: Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor; or Mickey Rooney and Sammy Davis Jr.; or Rick Moranis and Eddie Griffin (or David Chapelle). But
all the great comedian character-actors are GONE or way too old! There isn't anybody like that anymore! Or is there??? Who do you think should pair up for the next installment: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe ?
The Wizard of Oz (1925)
This Movie Needs Re-Evaluation
Larry Semon's "Wizard of Oz" is a movie that needs to be re-evaluated.
It also may be one of those films that just needs all the help it can get, which it does get in a pristine print with a brilliant soundtrack by Robert Israel, via WarnerVideo.
So far as I can find, there is only ONE source for this version: The Wizard of Oz (Four-Disc Emerald Edition) (2006) "70th Anniversary", selling on Amazon for a mere $13.58.
Being interested in early cinema fantasy, I bought this set specifically for its inclusion of the 1910 Oz movie (pretty good, by the way). I wanted to compare that to what Melies was doing around then.
After watching the 1910 and all the 1914 versions (also on this set), I then put on the Semon film, intending to watch just a few minutes and then go to bed. Immediately, I was captivated by the engaging full-orchestra title music. Then the film proper came on and I was amazed at the beauty of the image. Sparkling clear and clean! Comparable to the most recent Kino release of Keaton's "The General". Semon's big production values are finally fully visible. Further, imaginative and gorgeous tintings with no loss of detail give the effect of a full-color movie. It was stunning. I couldn't take my eyes off the film!
Add to all this, Robert Israel's beautiful music, comedically but sensitively set to the action in perfect synchronization. It may be Israel's best work (and may prove how utterly critical it is to have a superior musictrack to a "silent" film). And with Semon's imaginative cinematography, the movie was playing out like a classic. There was no way to stop watching
Now, forget about the title. Frank Baum himself re-wrote the basic Oz story many times. In his own movies he sets up the same characters and just revises the same story over and over. So if you're unhappy with the "fidelity" of this film to the book (or the 1939 movie (c'mon, get over it)), just call it "Semon in Oz" (oops... heh... I mean, y'know, like "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood"). What's wrong with that? Do NOT think about this as THE Wizard of Oz.
I realize that slick appearance does not make up for poor content, but as Pauline Kael once said about a W.C. Fields movie, So what if everything is "all gummed up"? Story-logic doesn't always matter; sometimes I'm more interested in the comic riffing
So I watched the whole movie, and was continuously delighted, even laughing out loud. Then I was surprised to note that it had been 72 minutes long. I thought it had only been about 45 minutes!
Well, there is a whole lot more I could write, and anyone can point out the weaknesses of this movie. But suffice it to say that I was thoroughly engaged and entertained from start to finish, and I am one who has a BIG problem sitting through movies over 20 minutes long. I can barely sit still long enough to slog through the labored stories of silent drama ("A Child of Paris", "Sunrise", D.W. Griffith melodramas), or comedies of Coleen Moore, Mary Pickford, and D. Fairbanks, which have me itching for the fast-forward button; even Keaton and Lloyd occasionally dawdle too much for me. (On the other hand, Melies is never too long, nor is Chaplin or Langdon; or, once front-and-center, Laurel & Hardy.)
Now I am curious to show this version of this movie to others to see if they enjoy it. Or conclude that I've just finally lost my mind from watching "Ridolini" too many times.
Le voyage dans la lune (1902)
An Overview of the Best Versions on DVD
This is a summary of the best available versions of this movie, and where to find them.
There are three black-and-white versions that are outstanding: (A) a digital scan of an original 35mm nitrate print owned by the Melies family; this scan is available through flickeralley (.com). (B) a digital scan of a 35mm PRINT of the (A) PRINT (so a "print- of-a-print") that can be found on the 5-DVD compilation entitled, "Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema", also distributed by Flicker Alley. (C) StudioCanal offers a different print, available directly from France. (Go to Amazon.fr and search for "Georges Melies" "studiocanal". It's in the 3-DVD Méliès edition that comes with a gorgeous book with beautiful pictures and text all in French!)
Here are the pros-and-cons of each version:
FLICKER ALLEY (A) has unbelievably crisp picture quality on both DVD and blu-ray, and absolutely crackling detail on the blu-ray. In high-definition, you can see the actors' teeth when they smile. It's a great study version. However, to keep the clarity and retain the fullest frame, the image has not been cleaned up or adequately stabilized. The picture looks like it's in a snowstorm; but somehow this adds to the charm. The real problem is that without additional cropping, the film still has enough jitter-and- weave to make you want to poke your eyes out. But if you want detail, this is the print to see. You have a choice of three soundtracks, and the one by Robert Israel is brilliant. The DVD includes a narration that is derived from a text that Melies himself wrote. It is absolutely delightful. Unfortunately, on the current edition of the DVD version of music-with-narration (which by some oversight is NOT found on the blu- ray disc*), the sound is nearly 2 seconds ahead of the image, creating an odd effect when the cannon is fired, and when the moon gets smashed in the eyeball.
*These two discs come together in a Limited "Steelbook" edition that costs about $30, and thus you are supplied with BOTH the blu-ray AND the DVD version, with identical contents (except the missing narration on the blu-ray), coded for Region 1 (North America). The high cost is a result of the main attraction on the set: "A Trip to the Moon" IN COLOUR. More about that later
FLICKER ALLEY (B) is a digital scan of a print of the above print, so the focus is softer, and it is only available on DVD (as opposed to high-definition blu-ray), making the focus softer yet. However, it has been much cleaned, the white speckles are gone, and although there are a lot of light tramlines (vertical black streaks), they are not too annoying. As with ALL versions, splice lines and all larger blemishes have NOT been removed. The image hardly bounces at all. The soundtrack is the Robert Israel music-and-narration, with an option for music-only, and in pretty good sync to the picture.
The STUDIOCANAL (C) print is intriguing. All versions I'm summarizing have the complete film; that is, they include the opening in the Great Hall, and the ending with the dance around the statue (absent in some older versions). However, in this StudioCanal version there are a few seconds missing at the very, very end. On the other hand, it has a few more frames and a dissolve that is missing from the Flicker Alley B&W prints. This print is strikingly clean. In fact the whole second half of the movie is so clear and with such depth that you would swear it was filmed yesterday. The image is completely stabilized so that jitter and weave are simply not an issue. The only disadvantages of this version are (1) it is expensive, and (2) the soundtrack is a just-barely adequate piano score. This print runs faster than all other versions and as noted it has a different number of frames, so you cannot just play the Israel soundtrack while watching this film and expect it to be in sync, although I suppose you could approximate it, if you're happy with that sort of thing.
The newly "restored" colour version, available in the same Steelbook album from Flicker Alley as the (A) B&W version, is a different animal altogether. It is a spectacular release and the restoration, imperfect as it may have to remain, is miraculous and cost over half a million dollars. Thus the high price of the DVD set. It's worth it. I would have paid twice the amount to own this film. It is not meant for the casual purchaser of low-cost DVD's. However, because of some major image problems, restoration notwithstanding, a good black-and-white print remains indispensable. The Flicker Alley (B) print is the simplest way to see this film in a comfortably watchable version. The disadvantage there is that you have to buy the whole 5-dvd set of Melies films. The ADVANTAGE is that you get the whole 5-dvd set of Melies films(!!), which has given me months and months of pleasure, day after day!
Flicker Alley, or whoever controls these things, would do us all a great favor by taking their high-definition (A) scan of the original nitrate-print, cleaning it up a little, and fully stabilizing the image, setting the Israel soundtrack to it IN SYNC (giving us a music-with-narration and a music-only option), and then distributing it on blu-ray. If additionally they would pay someone (or find a nut like me who would do it for free) to take a couple of evenings to use some movie-editing software to hide the bad splices and cover up the ubiquitous black spots, pieces of crud and splashes of see- through emulsion, which inevitably blemish all vintage films, this would be the ideal version of the movie, notwithstanding the coloured-print
Le royaume des fées (1903)
A Ten for its Time, and Still Charms
You cannot rate this by comparing it to a modern movie. That would be like denigrating the intelligence of a dolphin because it doesn't think with a human brain. Given the date of release (1903: that is OH THUREE!!!) it is a wonder that this movie even exists. That is it is available in what appears to be a well-preserved first or second-generation print, almost scratch-free and in dazzling color, is practically miraculous enough to have made Darwin a believer.
The best version of this film that I know of is in the Flicker Alley 5-dvd set, enhanced by Eric Beheim's synthesized but nonetheless completely fitting and well-synchronized musical soundtrack. There is still much that could be done to clean up this print: it is possible to matte over much of the sparkling on the left side of the frame, and blot out almost all of the blobs of crud and scrapes that come and go, eliminate a few flash frames, and of course hide all the splices. There is still a little annoying jitter in the underwater scene, but it's not too bad (and after all it IS "underwater"). If these things are corrected, or if you just use a little imagination to overlook the blemishes, the quality of this film is really staggering (1903!!). It is probably the most beautiful of all the existing Mèliés films (maybe right beside "Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship", also in color).
Of course Mèliés uses a number of antiquated stage conventions, such as trap doors and wobbly sliding flats; and for some reason he hired an oddly stolid and frumpy fairy grand-godmother to introduce the apotheosis (itself a creaking stage convention), but this all adds to the fun. (Remember, it is NINETEEN OH THREE!) The story itself is secondary, and it has no particular depth, but it is extremely well put together. And besides, unless we're talking classic literature, story should really be secondary anyway: it's what you DO with the story that matters, and here Mèliés really "pulls out the stops" with fabulous pantomime, running and leaping (most notably from Mèliés himself), exotic costumes, amazing fantastic backdrops and characters (and animals!), cumulative drama with a fantastic climactic fire scene, a well-constructed and engaging narration, and in the case of the Flicker Alley release, a speaker who really charms and amuses with some highly mangled (but still understandable) English, like a dear old granduncle from The Old Country spinning a story for the kids. So far this is the only movie I've ever rated a 10. I wish I could rate the restoration a 10, but 9.5 is pretty good.