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Degree in physics from Brooklyn College, 1951.
Retired government employee mafter 34 years of service
Passion for movies since I saw "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1938.
48 Hours: Lottery Fever (1989)
A balanced look at the pros and cons of state-run lotteries and how they affect various people
I recorded this CBS program when it aired in 1989 only because my brother is in it. He's the mathematics professor who debunks systems which supposedly helps people win a lottery.. The program tries to be fair giving people who believe their winning systems will work a chance to explain, but all pretty much skirt the issue. One came across as odd; he photographs the "aura' emitted by fingers and says numbers appear on the prints when developed. Another hems and haws when asked how much money her system has won. A third uses astrology to get winning numbers. It's no wonder that one reporter concludes you can make money with a system you are comfortable with, not by using it, but by selling it. Indeed, one woman reported she sold half a million copies of her book.
The program also interviews a few lucky people who won millions in a lottery, but I found more interesting stories of people who were adversely affected by addiction to gambling. One resorted to stealing to satisfy a $200-a-day gambling habit. A reporter notes that 4% of gamblers are addicted, and that is a lot of people. Arguments are given by pro-lottery and anti-lottery proponents. At the time, 11 states ran lotteries with the proceeds used to minimize taxes, fund education, etc. The antis say simply it is immoral, or against God, or the state shouldn't be in the lottery business.
Overall, I found this to be a balanced, informative and entertaining documentary.
Joel Grey hosts a survey of Chaplin films between 1914 and 1917 with clips of poor quality.
This film covers Chaplin's early life with stills, as there is no movie record of it, and his meteoric rise to fame in 1914 to about 1917, with clips of "Auto Races in Venice (1914)" (where he first used his 'little tramp' getup), followed by clips of 13 other shorts in the period, including "The Floorwalker," "The Rink" and "The Immigrant." It was fairly well written and nicely hosted by Joel Grey, but it could have been much better. I was disappointed in the quality of many of the clips. They were not only scratchy, but also overblown with heads often cut off. And they were run at sound speed giving it that jerky motion which gives silents a bad name. Even in 1980, better clips were available and should have been used.
A fascinating political advertisement of the type shown these days on television.
The commissioner of schools himself urges voters to vote "yes" on all 7 bond issues, presumably to help education in San Francisco, California. Students are shown rushing to catch streetcars to take them to their next class, often 2 miles away. And they do this all day long 5 days a week for the entire term. I suppose the bond issue was for building a junior high school to alleviate that problem, but we are never told its purpose; probably the residents knew without any further explanation. When shown on the Turner Classic Movies channel, Robert Osborne's co-host, Annette Melville, mentioned many such political ads were made in the period, but few survive. In that context, I found the film fascinating. Ms. Melville also mentioned it was very effective, since the bond issue passed with 70% of the votes.
Too long, even at 9 minutes.
Nine minutes of psychedelic, pulsating, often symmetric abstract images, are enough to drive anyone crazy. I did spot a full-frame eye at the start, and later some birds silhouetted against other colors. It was just not my cup of tea. It's about 8½ minutes too long.
Rural Life in Maine (1930)
Competent filmmaking, but it might be better appreciated many years from now.
I can't really say the film was bad, but I wondered why it was chosen to be preserved. It is basically shows a summer day at a farm in Maine. People tending to chores, clearing a field, including a massive rock, repairing a house and generally very mundane items involved in farming. There was also a birthday celebration for (probably) grandma who blows out the candles on a cake and a violinist (fiddler) playing music which obviously was dubbed. Just as I would love to see an actual documentary filmed by a caveman, people might enjoy this film many years from now. But viewed today, everything looked like something you or I might be doing. There was a nice touch: the movie starts with the raising of a flag and ends with the lowering of that flag, with a final very short winter scene I'll leave to your imagination. Still, the film is really not worth seeing.
Beautiful Japan (1918)
A typical home movie, but by an ambassador in Japan with some interesting scenes and facts.
The film is nicely presented with intertitles explaining the scenes that follow, beginning first with a map of Japan and someone tracing out the route Ambassador Brodsky would take. Since the film shown on Turner Classic Movies was an excerpt lasting only 15 minutes, I presume only the highlights were shown: the Yokohama shipyards, the tea farms at Shidzuoka, a cherry-blossom festival, and an annual ritual at an Ainus village. It is the latter that was most interesting by far. The Ainus are the aborigines of Japan, and they still followed (in 1918) an annual ritual of strangling a pet bear. Fascinating, to say the least. It reminded me of my own experience in 1977 of witnessing and filming a goat sacrifice in Nepal. It would have been nice to see the whole film to see what other items would have turned up.
My one serious complaint was that the movie was shown at the sound speed so that movement was often noticeably too fast.
Rose Hobart (1936)
Absolutely dreadful and hardly art.
I hate to pan a film that has been selected for placement on the National Film Registry, and I must confess my distaste for avant-garde films in general, which perhaps biased me towards a pan. But I got nothing from this film and couldn't wait for it to end. What did Joseph Cornell do merit any praise? None of the images were his. He re-edited portions of the film East of Borneo (1931) destroying any semblance of story. He projected it through blue-tinted glass. And he selected some samba music as background, again not his (although it's the best part of the movie). The result is a mishmash of meaningless images unconnected to itself or to the music. As bad as the movie East of Borneo was, I'd rather watch it than sit through this one again.
George Dumpson's Place (1965)
Amateurish photography left me confused.
I assume Ed Emshwiller did the photography since there was no credit for it, but it struck me as very amateurish. Closeups were often panned so quickly it was impossible to digest or even discern what was being filmed. Such closeups wind up as a jumble difficult to comprehend. So it was in this film. Occasionally the camera slowed but some closeups were still so extreme I couldn't comprehend the image. I gathered George Dumpson's place had a garden filled with junk art. Inside, the house was poorly lit, so I had the same trouble. After one minute I was totally confused and somewhat frustrated, but I stuck it through. A second viewing did not help much. Perhaps it may be clearer if projected in a theater rather than viewed on a large screen TV from a video print, where it is definitely not recommended despite some rather nice music.
Moving abstract art isn't for everyone.
If you like abstract art, you may appreciate Dwinell Grant's idea to set it in motion by stop-action animation. He takes mostly colorful geometric figures (circles, squares and rectangles) and intermingles them with twirling motions, each often interacting with others. For me, it was mercifully short at 3:38 minutes.
Enjoyable look at 1929 West Virginia.
I just saw the 8:22 minute section of this film called "The Scenic 'Midland Trial [sic]', Route 60" shown on TCM in their Treasures of American Archives series. Reverend Snodgrass filmed this when U.S. Route 60 was just completed in 1929. He takes us from one end (Ohio) to the other (Virginia), stopping along the way to point out gorgeous scenery and other West Virginia items which would interest any tourist. So it was basically a well photographed and well titled travelogue. As an amateur photographer myself, I loved it. He starts out with a full-frame map of West Virginia and I was somewhat disappointed he never made use of that map again. It would have been nice to show where on the map he was as he got there. I had to get out my Rand-McNally map to locate the places. Still, it was great to get a record of 1929 West Virginia, with its rather sparse traffic and those square-looking automobiles.
Curtain Call (1940)
A not-as-funny variation of Producers, The (1968).
I wondered if Mel Brooks saw this film and got the idea for Producers, The (1968) from it. Both movies involve producers looking for the worst possible play - in this case for revenge, not for money. Helen Vinson is under contract to do one more play for Donald MacBride, but then plans to sign with another producer. So he and director Alan Mowbray decide to get her a bad play, and the one which naive would-be playwright Barbara Read has just sent them fits the bill. The problem is that Vinson adores the play and thinks it is a work of art. The movie bogs down a bit as Mowbray tries to get Read's permission to make changes in her play, and I didn't think much of the romance between Read and John Archer. Nonetheless, there's enough cute comedy throughout to enjoy, although the ending is a bit predictable.
A fascinating cinéma vérité documentary which has to be seen to be believed.
A truly remarkable documentary which had cameras with all the principals involved in the confrontation between Governor George Wallace of Alabama and the federal courts in letting two black students enroll in the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. I was awed at witnessing the planning sessions of President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, General Abrams, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, etc. The University had already approved the admission of the two students; Alabama was the only remaining state which had not fully integrated its university system, and Governor Wallace vowed to stand at the entrance and prevent the students from entering. What the federal government will do when that happens is the focus of the documentary? The tension is real! The drama is real! The participants are real! A most extraordinary documentary I never knew existed before it bowled me over when I saw it in 1981 in a theater, and again when recently shown on the Turner Classic Movies channel. I would have thought it could never have been made. After all, I'm sure Governor Wallace knew it was a lost cause, yet he gave permission for the film makers to film him and his staff and the confrontation. The principals were covered by four teams of film makers and most of the footage appeared unstaged. Shots of Robert Kennedy at home with his kids and George Wallace with his daughter (or granddaughter) helped to make them more human rather than larger than life. The sense of history was overpowering. A must see for anyone interested in the civil rights movement or any of the participants.
Three American Beauties (1906)
Beautiful colors, no plot, but is it the right film?
It is hard to say much about a 43-second film with no plot. It opens with a gorgeous full-frame colored close-up of an American Beauty red rose. This was startling, since the AFI Catalogue of Film Beginnings, 1893-1910 (published 1995), says the 1906 version was a black-and-white film, according to information from the Edison Film Catalogue. The title frame, with the Edison trademark, also clearly says patented 1906. However, another film called "Three American Beauties (No.2)" released in 1907 was slightly longer and handcolored. I wondered if what was being shown was a combination of the two films: the title frame of the 1906 version and the actual film of the 1907 version. At 43 seconds, the film was incomplete for either version, so we may never know.
Times Square Lady (1935)
A routine romantic crime drama with a couple of nice songs sung by Pinky Tomlin..
Robert Taylor, in his first leading role, manages a nightclub in this romantic crime drama. Virginia Bruce inherits that club as well as some other sporting places around town: a hockey team, a race track, a dog track, etc. Henry Kolker is a crooked lawyer trying to get her to sell her holdings at a fraction of their true worth on behalf of the other crooked managers. So they stage events to convince her (and a hockey player is killed as a result of a staged fight). Because she is so reluctant, Kolker has Taylor, as the most handsome of the bunch, to woo her and convince her to sell. But of course he falls in love instead, and his actions are then very predictable, as are the actions of the other managers, who do not take Taylor's betrayal lying down. The biggest attraction for me was the appearance of Pinky Tomlin, who has little to do with the plot. He's there to provide some comedy and to sing his very popular song "The Object of My Affection" and another lesser known song he co-wrote. Tomlin hasn't made many movies, so it's worth seeing this one to catch him in it.
A pleasant little crime-comedy if you're not too fussy about logic.
A crime-comedy, with Jack Oakie very personable as a movie detective who is short on brains. Famous actors are getting poison pen letters, which we learn quickly are from house-of-horrors owner Eduardo Ciannelli, whose motive seems to be revenge for bad acting. Oakie gets such a letter announcing he'll be killed, so he goes to Ciannelli, his friend, and says he knows who sent it! It's the one sending all those poison pen letters. That's the level of Oakie's intelligence (and the level of the comedy in the script). Ciannelli has lots of opportunities to kill Oakie, including with a rifle with a gunsight. The comedy comes from Oakie, his servant, Willie Best (again shamefully stereotyped), and the hapless police inspector, Edgar Kennedy. Ann Sothern seems wasted as Oakie's publicity manager.
Much lovely music, some nice comedy but an artificial plot.
I'm not much of a fan of Eleanor Powell even though she's a marvelous tap dancer. She always struck me as a cold fish - and there's very little chemistry between her and Nelson Eddy (who is in fine voice) so the romance between them seems totally artificial. So is the plot, which involves her being an incognito princess of a small European country, falling in love with football player Eddy, who follows her to her country when she leaves the States to marry a prince. If it weren't for the score by Cole Porter, it would have been a total bust for me. Although the film is vaguely based on the 1928 show of the same name, MGM head Louis B. Mayer opted to have Porter write a completely new score, supplanting the Sigmond Romberg-George Gershwin score of the original. The music is the best part of the movie, with the hauntingly beautiful "In the Still of the Night" a standout. There is some enjoyable comedy provided by Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger and Billy Gilbert, all of whom I enjoyed more than the leads. A bit long at 123 minutes, but worth a look mostly for the music.
Cole Porter reportedly hated the title song, but Louis B. Mayer loved it, and he was the man with the money, so it stayed. With its opulent sets and numerous extras, this was one of the most expensive films made up to that time, but it was also a huge hit.
Living on Velvet (1935)
An unfocused romantic melodrama carried by the stars, but with a very funny sequence.
There's not much of a plot. George Brent piloted a plane which crashed killing his parents and sister, while he walked away with hardly a scratch. So he believes he's living on borrowed time - "living on velvet" as he puts it. But he meets Kay Francis, the fiancee of his best friend, Warren William, and they fall in love. William wants her to be happy and not only approves of their marriage, but helps them out by setting them up in a Long Island estate he rents at $4.50 a month. Still the marriage has its problems because of Brent's irresponsible attitudes about working.
Although the movie is somewhat enjoyable at the melodramatic level, there is one sequence that had me in stitches. To appreciate it, you must know in advance that Kay Francis always had trouble with the letter "r", which often sounded like "w". I notice it in all her movies. Here, George Brent gently ribs her about it. The night they meet, he tells her he likes the sound of her voice, and asks her to say something nice and long. She begins "30 days has September, Apwil June..." "Apwil? Apwil?" he interrupts. "Repeat after me please 'Around the rugged rocks the ragged rascals ran'." Miss Francis repeats it, purposely exaggerating the "w" sound and starts her poem again this time saying "Aprrril", but letting the "w" sound creep in for some of the other months. It is a very funny sequence. As star of the movie, she easily could have suppressed that dialogue, but all the more power to her for letting it stay. It raised my opinion of her considerably.
Fixer Dugan (1939)
A routine circus picture, but the stars are worth watching.
The incomparable Lee Tracy stars as the title character, manager of a circus with many problems he fixes. The underrated child star, Virginia Weidler, becomes an orphan when her aerialist mother (Rita La Roy) falls to her death. She overhears some conmen planning to get two lions back for a rival circus and warns lion tamer Peggy Shannon. In retaliation, they inform the sheriff that Weidler is an underage orphan, so she is put in an orphanage. They also get the lions. Fixer Dugan, who is a bit of a conman himself, then has to get those lions and Weidler back. It's all pretty routine, but there is some suspense when a lion gets loose, and it's always fun to watch Tracy and Weidler.
Expensive Husbands (1937)
A dumb screenplay with uninteresting stars.
I must confess that neither Beverly Roberts nor Patric Knowles are among my favorite stars, and this movie showed me why. Their love scenes are unconvincing. The screenplay doesn't help either, since it can't decide to be a romantic comedy or a musical At one point, a group of maids do a production number, which was very jolting and out of place. Knowles is an impoverished prince working as a waiter and Roberts is a movie star on a European promotional trip. He is very honest and tells her that her movie love scenes are very bad, causing her to be angry. (He's apparently a good critic.) When her agent (Allyn Joslyn) tells her she lost a part because the one who got it had married a count, and suggests she marry some royalty, she advertises for one! Naturally, Knowles gets the job. Though it was supposed to a marriage of convenience, she awaits him on her wedding night. He wants her to give up acting, so she goes back to Hollywood in a huff. Of course, Knowles follows, and it is easy to predict the ending because of the unfeminist attitudes of the 1930's. I don't know how the movie did at the box office, but I would have been annoyed I paid money to see it.
Danger Patrol (1937)
A routine, but watchable drama about the dangers of handling nitroglycerin
I knew that nitroglycerin is a dangerous explosive, but I still enjoyed how the dispatcher, Frank M. Thomas, tells the new 'soup' handler, John Beal, that fact. "Here's a picture of a truck that the 'soup' blew up" says Thomas, and it's a blank picture. Beal's love interest is Sally Eilers, the daughter of the veteran soup handler, Harry Carey. She won't marry marry Beal because of the worry involved. And he won't quit because he wants the money the job pays to get to medical school. In desperation, he takes a dangerous job flying 'soup' to Mexico to put out an oil well fire. But Carey, sensing Eilers really loves Beal, takes matters in hand.
The drama is dedicated to the 'soup handlers' who made oil exploration possible, but it tends to telegraph events which robs the viewer of some suspense. We see throughout the anxiety the wives suffer about the fate of their husbands. It is easy to predict one of the handlers will be killed. ("What did they bury?" one mourner at the funeral asks. "Part of a shoe they found.") And it was easy to predict Carey's actions at the end. Clouzot's "Salaire de la peur, Le (1953)" is clearly a much better film on the same subject, but Danger patrol still is watchable entertainment.
1925 Studio Tour (1925)
A fascinating documentary about the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio in 1925.
Untitled and without any crew credits, this 32-minute silent documentary takes you on a tour of MGM in 1925, meeting the people who create the movies, and watching some of them do it. I found it fascinating, especially when some of the moviemakers were identified by the inter-titles. It was nice to be able finally to attach a face to some familiar names such as writers Agnes Christine Johnston, Jane Murfin, Waldemar Young and others who are identified and shown in closeups. I noted that Howard Hawks was included as a writer - he didn't start directing until later. Less interesting were the showing of groups of unidentified crew members: about 50 cameramen lined up in a row, each hand cranking their cameras, seemed to serve no useful purpose. Unlike the writers, who were identified individually, the directors were all identified first in an inter-title, and the camera then panned across them standing in a row, but you could not tell which name belonged to which director. I did recognize Erich von Stroheim, but only because he was also a famous actor. When the actors and actresses were introduced as a group by inter-titles, it was much more fun, because identifying them became a game. I also saw three unlisted actors: Ford Sterling, William Haines and Sojin, and there are probably others.
Later on, some actors and some crew members were identified and shown in closeup. I finally got to see what famed art director Cedric Gibbons looked like. And it was delightful to see "the world's foremost designer," Romaine de Tirtoff Erte, fitting a gown on "M-G-M's 'find' of 1925," Joan Crawford, when she was still known as Lucille Le Sueur. I enjoyed famous actors clowning around: John Gilbert puts his hat in position to hide his kissing Zasu Pitts, and Norma Shearer mugs the camera while 'accidentally' dropping hundreds of fan letters.
Most interesting were shots of the filming of two movies: Tod Browning directing a scene for Mystic, The (1925), and Edmund Goulding directing Conrad Nagel and Lucille La Verne in Sun-Up (1925). And there's much more to this enjoyable documentary. It eventually acquired a music soundtrack, which is the way it is shown every once in a while on the Turner Classic Movies Channel (TCM). Unfortunately, it has never been scheduled (probably because it has no title), but is a filler whenever a two-hour slot is scheduled for a silent film that runs less than an hour and a half. It's worth looking for such a case.
Okay for Sound (1946)
A must for film history buffs.
What seemed just like Warner Bros. touting their pioneering of sound in movies 20 years earlier, suddenly developed into a wonderful enlightenment of the events of August 6, 1926. That was the night they released Don Juan (1926), the first feature film with a soundtrack. But other short films were shown that night, collectively called "Vitaphone Preludes," and a program distributed to the audience listing those films is shown, along with snippets of those films. First, Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers Association (MPPA), gives a short speech of appreciation for the contribution of Warner Bros. for bringing sound to motion pictures. Then, in quick succession, the program reads, and we see parts of: "Overture from Tannhauser" played by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Mischa Elman in a violin solo playing "Gavotte," Roy Smeck playing a guitar solo, Marion Talley singing "Caro Nome" from "Rigoletto," Efram Zimbalist on violin and Harold Bauer on piano playing variations from Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata," Giovanni Martinelli singing "Vesti La Guibba" from "I Pagliacci" and Anna Case singing "La Fiesta." You can also read on the program some of the music credits for Don Juan (which are not on the print). I was filled with an awesome sense of film history. Some of these short films are already in the IMDb database. It would really be a treat if Turner Classic Movies would show the entire "Vitaphone Preludes" as a package.
Old Hutch (1936)
Finding $100,000 seemed like a big bonanza to Wallace Beery, but he's in for several surprises.
A delightful comedy centering on Wallace Beery finding a small box with 100 $1000 bills. He's a shiftless, lazy father of six and hasn't worked since the day he married Elizabeth Patterson. Because it would be too suspicious to try to change a $1000 bill, he decides to work to accumulate enough money so that he could start spending his new-found fortune. Until then, he buries it under a tree by the lake. The screenplay is cleverly written, with lots of surprises and some romance between his eldest daughter, Cecilia Parker, and the town's rich banker's son, Eric Linden. But it's Beery's film from the start and is a very enjoyable entertainment.
There's a glaring error in the credits: James Burke is credited onscreen in the role of the bank teller, but if you know the character actors of the 30's, you'll recognize that it was James Bush in the role. Because of the similarity of the names, it's more than likely that it was just a typographical error and that Burke was never even considered for the part (he's not right for it). Another problem I noticed was the character names of the Perkin twins, Caroline and Julia. They are credited onscreen as Sally and Florrie, but they are called Carrie and Julie (probably their real life nicknames) in the film.
Good News (1930)
A lively early musical with some fascinating performances from Penny Singleton and Gus Shy.
Watching Penny Singleton in this movie was a revelation, and for those who think of her only as the staid title character of the "Blondie" series should catch this movie if only to see her. She's billed 11th (as Dorothy McNulty) but is the centerpiece of two of the big production numbers involving singing and dancing: "The Varsity Drag" and the title song "Good News." Her immense talent is evident as she does her high kicks, somersaults, cartwheels and splits and delivers the rapid-fire lyrics with uninhibited abandon. She was an absolute joy to behold! In addition, Gus Shy, the Danny Thomas look- talk- and act-alike, provides some good comedy that is complemented by that of Bessie Love and Cliff Edwards, while Lola Lane, Mary Lawlor and Stanley Smith provide the love interest. With 11 or so songs, including the ever-popular "The Best Things in Life Are Free," this movie is definitely worth seeing and compares favorably with the 1947 remake. My one complaint was the lack of closeups, although there was a good full-head closeup of Singleton singing "The Varsity Drag." It was very effective.
Before the movie was shown on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel, some titles informed us that the last half of the final reel was filmed in an experimental color process and is now lost. But the ever-resourceful station put together some stills at the end with subtitles to describe the outcome. The movie ran 84 minutes instead of the original 90 minutes.
The Captain's Kid (1936)
Talented child star Sybil Jason hasn't much to work with here, but check out Gus Shy.
Sybil Jason was Warner Brothers' answer to Shirley Temple -- a child star who can sing and act well. But she is so cloying here it negates any personality she has. The problem is more with the screenplay, which has her act like a ninny most of the time, not realizing what can help or hurt a person. She does sing the title song nicely. The plot involves buried treasure and a set of crooks which is somewhat entertaining.
I did enjoy seeing Gus Shy, an actor I have seen in other movies. He looks, sounds and has mannerisms so much like Danny Thomas, I thought they might have been related. He's worth checking out, even though his part is small.