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S.O.S. Iceberg (1933)
Remarkable Arctic Photography.Dismal Plot and Acting
Dashing explorer Rod LaRoque, married to dashing aviatrix Leni Riefenstahl, gets stuck on an iceberg floating out to sea. Leni crashes her plane on that same iceberg, so she gets stuck too. Will the radio message "SOS ICEBERG" bring anyone to save them, or will they die of arctic cold and Luke-warm plot?
Well, this one is odd, and not worth much of an effort, despite some breathtaking visuals. The plot, involving some reckless and stupid arctic adventurers, a series of poor decisions, and a wanton disregard for wearing gloves in cold weather, makes it impossible to care much about the fix these dingbats are in. And the last scene, involving a five mile hike/swim to an Eskimo village, is too absurd to deal with without giggling. If I am going to suspend my disbelief willingly, I need something to hold onto, and could not find it here.
This is the only movie you'll find where Leni Riefenstahl speaks English. She doesn't say much, and her acting isn't too embarrassing. One imagines an alternate history where she makes a big splash (among other things, she is a looker), and stays in the US, and doesn't make Triumph of the Will. Problem is, this movie was never fated to make anyone a star. The only person who makes any attempt at stealing the film is Gibson Gowland (from Greed), whose hirsute villainy is more repellent than attractive.
Studio One: The Arena (1956)
Rod Serling Gives Chester Morris His Perfect Role
Wendell Corey, the son of a forcibly retired politician, is appointed as a caretaker Senator. Is he fit to do battle in THE ARENA that is the US Senate, with the help of veteran aide Chester Morris?
Chester Morris is one of those actors whose reputation might be helped if there weren't a Turner Classic Movies. This is because, in the 40s, Mr. Morris often starred as the obnoxious Boston Blackie, who, when not solving his crimes in black-face (yes, really), smirked his way through a lot of stupid comic mysteries. And those are the movies TCM keeps playing.
To this role, Morris brings what is often visible in his 30s movies, an always present surface cockiness, tempered by experience. Here, he has to attempt to play the worldly counselor to a daddy's boy senator, who might be a good man, if he can just escape his father's influence. He nails the part (which is written beautifully) and helps turn a somewhat preachy script into something more interesting. Wendell Corey gives an average performance, and others are just fine too.
Of course, the show ends with a moral crisis, solved happily. In the politics of 2016, rest assured the morally pleasing answer Mr. Serling gives us would not have been considered by any politician actually thinking of his future. For that reason, the ending may seem too pat to modern audiences. Not sure that is a judgment a 1956 viewer would have made.
A Blitz on the Fritz (1943)
Ignore The Legend - Watch the Film
Harry Langdon was well past his big money starring days by the time he made this short subject, but he had not outlasted his talent. By this time, Harry had figured out how to make his character work in talkies, and the only shame is that this one is pretty unknown and hard to see.
In short, Harry is his usual childish dimwit -- with a 40's patriotic fervor to do the right thing, but somewhat at a loss at how to do the right thing. Through the writing skills of Clyde Bruckman (who is busily raiding the comedy attics of all the comedians he has worked for), Harry figures it out, but not before providing some good laughs (and the occasional pratfall.) The final sequence is a standout, as is the three or four minutes where Harry becomes a guinea pig for his wife's first aid class.
Much better than most Columbia shorts of the period.
California or Bust (1923)
20 Minutes Is a Riot, Too
Snub Pollard, an Okie tired of frequent tornadoes, decides to haul all of his worldly goods and his wife to a better land. It is California OR BUST, but what's more likely, California, or bust?
I can see how the other reviewer saw a six minute version -- this is a movie that breaks down easily in several parts. Fortunately, all the parts are chock full of funny, imaginative gags, as well as an interesting view of the privations of long distance auto travel in 1923. A conflict with Jimmmy Finlayson at an auto camp (forerunner to the trailer parks) presages many similar conflicts Stan and Ollie would have with the angry Mr. Finlayson. Other gags tend to be very elaborate and feature Rube Goldberg style inventions.
The long version is very worth finding.
Oh, What a Man! (1927)
A Larry Semon Movie Like A Lot of Other Larry Semon Movies
Larry Semon is a government man who has volunteered to get the goods on Notorious Nora, the smokin hot amazon running the rackets in town. Will he get fair lady to scream "O WHAT A MAN" when he subjects her to his thrill comedy variety of daring do? Or will the male gangsters kill them all?
This is late in Semon's career, when the critics and the audiences had begun to realize that he was repeating himself. And, so, he repeats himself again. Let's do the checklist.
Is there an embarrassing moment of egregious racial humor? Yep. And its really bad, too.
Does the first reel have some promising comedy that suggests that if Semon had just stopped with the spectacular stuff, he might have been a funnier minor comic? Yes.
Is there a tough woman to share Larry's adventures with him, and is she given the chance to steel the movie from him? Yes, this most appealing feature of the Semon filmography is very much in evidence here, and the lady lead makes good use of the opportunity. She also gets some funny gags in reel one.
Is the spectacular second reel spectacular? No -- looks like the budget for that sort of thing has been cut. If you've seen more than a couple Semon movies, you've seen the type of stunting recycled here. Semon really is an action director miscast as an comedy director and, had he lived into the sound era, he might have made a transition into Republic thrill a minute serials.
Is there any humor involving ink or mud? Surprisingly, no.
Does Semon pointlessly play a second role in stupid makeup? Thankfully, no.
So, not the worst Semon, but probably not the best introduction to him. His best work has Oliver Hardy, a large budget, and planes, trains, cars and motorcycles doing breathtaking (if not necessarily funny) things.
All Tied Up (1925)
Heavyweight Entertainment from The Tons of Fun
Three heavy fellows live at a boardinghouse, as does a pretty girl and her old maid sister. The Tons of Fun (yes, that's how these guys were billed) end up getting ALL TIED UP at the justice of the peace trying to get themselves wed to two of them. Will the intrepid writers run out of fat jokes they can use before the two reels are over?
Those who bemoan the sorry state of comedy today because they just sat through a bad Saturday Night Live skit really need to sit through ghastly efforts like this one just to see that there has always been bad, unfunny comedy stretched out to ghastly lengths. There is a funny bit at the end of this one (involving an episode of stomach bumping), but mostly loads of "hilarity" based on the idea that fat is just funny and fat rear ends are funnier. Though this thing really stinks, still, of the few Tons of Fun efforts I have seen, this is probably the funniest.
The Wild Goose Chaser (1925)
Great Hunter Ben Turpin
Ben Turpin, Sennett's best walking sight gag, gets a gun and a wife, and misuses both. Will a sneaky other man alienate his wife's affections, while Turpin wanders around in the woods shooting at stuff as THE WILD GOOSE CHASER?
Ben Turpin's comedy in the 20s generally amounted to standing around with his amazing crossed eyes, and having things happen to him, that are completely incongruous because of the crossed eyes. This can be funny enough, but not usually for the entire length of a two reeler. This one seems pretty typical, and is pretty ordinary. The reminder of the gags are standard order Sennett, with people falling around and getting stuck in the mud.
Old Tin Sides (1927)
Tons of Fun at the General Store
One of the less inspired ideas from the low budget comedy factories was an overweight trio of comics that were billed the "Tons O' Fun". That is about the level of inspiration on this short, which gets its merriment by showing our heroes getting their ample behinds swatted. Oh, and there is the bit with the cow being milked under water and the kerosene getting blown up. And, since this is a general store plot less comedy, everyone gets hit with bags of flour. The only happy point in the whole show is it looks like everyone drowns at the end in a basement full of applejack.
Alpha Video has this short. Don't look it up.
What! No Spinach? (1926)
"Seven Chances" as Done By Joe Rock's Studio
A pleasant looking but slightly goofy comic finds out he will get a million dollars if he marries in 48 hours. If producer Joe Rock is sued by Buster Keaton, will his kids be screaming WHAT, NO SPINACH?
This is a funny short, which lifts its plot, and its general sensibility from Buster Keaton, which automatically makes it better than the usual run of minor two reelers. The fun here is less in the rather good looking comic -- who is really obscure -- but the mobs of females of all types who mob our hero. Again, the idea is very stolen, but the ladies act more like the Cops in another Keaton classic, and the combination of all this. pilfered Buster turns out to be a worthwhile fifteen minutes
The Chicken Parade (1922)
Chaplin Imitators Can Be Funny
Jimmy Aubrey meeting the need of a populace who was waiting on Charlie's next big picture, dodges gang bangers and a series of pretty young athletic ladies working out and doing a random Isadora Duncan dance. Are Vitagraph title writers really tacky enough, therefore, to label this mishmash "The Chicken Parade"?
Comedy back in silent two reeler days was available in large quantities, and the second and third rank vendors produced stuff that was hugely variable. This one, oddly enough, is funny, because the comic understands timing, and actually gets the "dancer" part of the Chaplin persona and makes good use of it. The gags are simpler, for the most part, and in some places seem more Tex Avery than Chaplin. But one could see an alternate career path for Chaplin which produced movies that would have looked a lot like this.
Worth a look.