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Why Be Good? (1929)
A Colleen Moore movie.
Here's a great representation of Colleen Moore and her work. A good good girl that dares to pretend to be a bad good girl who gets to the very edge of the precipice, but the good girl in her won't let her take the dive. A lesson is learned, the good goodness pays off in the end, and the equally virtuous boy prize is copped fair and square. This happens too many times to not be intentional. The same story is told and told yet again. The anxiety of whether she might slip kept her fans in suspense through the late silent era. She's adorable, and the films are fun, which is what a movie should offer, of course, but it seems to me Miss Moore, her great popularity of the time not withstanding, left no great films. In this typical effort, nothing new or especially memorable happens, it's just THE Colleen Moore movie once again.
This restoration has some problems, It seems to have titles retranslated from the Italian source material, with strange attempts at flaming youth patois like calling somebody a "Big Team" or a "Greasy Brat". The repeated reference to booze as "Wine", would indicate what the Italians had them drinking, and Colleen is introduced as an American girl, a needless point, except that it's another holdover from the original.
Heavy handed puffery.
The intention of this documentary was, one would suppose, to show Miss Novak as a smart, exciting star, more than just a pretty face, though the "sex queen" type platitudes are heaped on. But it almost seems like a satire of over the top publicity department drivel. She actually narrates about her moody seriousness, how she (apparently a' la Garbo) needs to spend time all alone at her Malibu Beach mansion, indulging in her so-intense artiness, her poetry and paintings. These include a fuzzy portrait of her mother, that (despite her being still alive enough to also appear later)is supposed to show how her love transcends death(!) After expressing her burning need to be by herself, she cavorts with a central casting mob of artsy beatnik types on the beach. She tells us that she can't get around without the public bothering her because she's so important and famous. She avoids this horror by wearing a brunette wig and movie star shades. To get away from the rabble, she's shown at Macy's department store in New York amidst Christmas sale crowds! That the segment is composed of enough multiple camera set-ups to make a feature film sort of deflates her supposed hunger for anonymity. What to get out of all this? My take is we're seeing a shallow phony going through some scripted pretensions to look deep and interesting.
Part two of this series is much like the first in that they didn't put any effort into researching their subject. First off, W.C. Fields must have been the producer's favorite, as he gets a second full scene in this installment. Most of the other comedians here are nothing more than a lightning-fast few frames enough to cover the length of time their names can be spoken. Still, Hal Roach and his productions go unmentioned. Most likely, the big issue that Wolper always had was being cheap. Roach, or many other sources would charge for their use, so they didn't make the cut.
The footage used is mainly public domain material, like the Abbott & Costello part is from an Army newsreel. The Bob Hope and Martin & Lewis stuff is not performance footage, but PR stuff from a newsreel or "Screen Snapshots" origin. The (non actor) Madx4 World footage must have been supplied for the fee plug value.
Another sloppy, ill-researched effort.
It would seem these documentaries were made as fast as possible, or they had no interest in doing any fact finding when they assembled them. Here, Mack Sennett is the centre of the comedy universe, so important that stars that never had anything to do with him are rattled off in a roll call of all his discoveries. Bits of film showing stars supposedly in Sennett productions include Arbuckle, Sterling and Turpin from 1930's Vitaphone films. The superfast and confused montage of action clips are likely from the series of 1940's Warner Brothers compilations. The strangest part of this story is the total omission of the man who created some of the most beloved films of all time, in 1963 still very much alive, Hal Roach. All of his stars, Snub Pollard, Charlie Chase, and most glaring of all, Laurel and Hardy, go unmentioned. This can't be by chance, they're telling 25% of the story. What was on their minds?
Hollywood and the Stars (1963)
Early history of history
This series was made so long ago that it is often given more importance than it deserves. Maybe as I'm long in the tooth enough to remember when it was new, it affords me a certain perspective. Then, I saw it as fascinating, and hung on every word, taking it in as important material, committing the information to memory. I also wondered why it was so unimportant to the people I knew who lived through those earlier eras of film.
Having a chance to view these again after a span of forty-odd years(they had a syndication afterlife for a while) makes me realize a few things that went past me originally. For one thing, the overall tone reflects what those mature people in the 1960s had-the subject was a trivial one. Old movies were very important to me, but in 1963, movies were all just yesterday's already done trifles. The point of the series was for middle aged folks to have an undemanding dose of nostalgia. It definitely was not a serious, scholarly effort. It's embarrassing how much careless misinformation and errors back up the various topics. Thye were leaving out and making up stuff.
Only seeing these again caused me to realize why I had so many confused ideas when I started doing serious film research- I retained the sloppy stories from this series! It would take much more sincere documentarians later to make something worthy of it's subject.
Not to be taken seriously as a documentary.
As typical of many David Wolper documentaries, this one really seems to be a sloppily made quickie. The cute subtitle probably is an illusion to a popular musical comedy of the time, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Keeping in that vein, a not-too-serious approach is used. They did no research on this, and it's full of misinformation, including the years that incidents occurred in. It tells us that the gangster film began with Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar (1931), and after a flood of shooting, chasing and other violent outbursts from miscellaneous (apparently all Warner Bothers) films, they conclude the "Gangster Cycle" ended 1940 with Robinson in "Brother Orchid", a film where a gangster seeks redemption as a monk. How ironic, and untrue. Weren't there important flicks in this genre before and after the 1930's? Sure there were- but to have some enforced happy ending was on their minds. If this was too subtle, the finale is a chunk of Cagney's flag waving number from "Yankee Doodle Dandy", a movie that has nothing to do with gangsters, unless we confuse Cagney the actor as an actual gangster, reformed as a song and dance man in a movie.
Wallace tries to elicit serious answers about Dali's views on topics ranging from the meaning of his famous works, including "Persistence Of Memory" and "Face Of War" to his Catholic faith. But Dali by this time had down pat his spacey, semi-ethereal genius persona. He speaks of himself in the third person and how inspiring he is to himself, and gives incoherent nuggets of faux-deep philosophy like how he admires weakness, and how words have no meaning to him. He asks why he should be surprised if he orders a lobster at a restaurant and they bring him a cooked telephone. They talk about some of his publicity stunts like giving a lecture wearing a closed deep sea diver helmet.
It's remarkable that Dali was ever taken seriously, everything he did or painted became a stunt for attention. Supposedly great artists don't go on game shows, or speak intentional nonsense like in this programme.He must have struck a lot of easily fooled people that all this cartoony strangeness was brilliance.
Oh! What a Day! (1923)
Lots of action, not so much sense.
Here's a classic example of the inferior quality of the Universal shorts, even at a time when they were putting a few dollars into it. The story is as thin as a one sentence summary; " The Gumps go to an amusement park, and then go home." It's packed with contrived, obvious gags like: switching out a blown tire on his car, the balloon on the replacement is already ruptured, so he cuts away that section. Nowhere to go, it apparently meant no further problems, so off they go. He goes fishing, and to keep a caught fish "quiet", he produces a heretofore unseen rifle and lets go with a blast that puts a hole in the bottom of the boat they're in. He doesn't notice until he's underwater. Walking along later, they encounter the midway guess-your-weight guy. Apropos of nothing, Andy asks him to allow him to guess the weight of a fat woman nearby. He says go ahead, and then, confronted by the woman, Andy's all flustered and nervous as if he's been forced to do it. Of course, he overstates her poundage, so she slugs him, but getting to a quick burst of violence at any cost in logic or coherence is not worth it. Also, the ghastly phony noses on Andy and Uncle Bim are stunning.
Another straw man vanquished.
Here's a fine example of one's opponents controlling the perception of the other side. It was done much more cerebrally back in the days of Barry Goldwater, when those evil conservatives were considered to have an intellectual dimension. In this case, the bad guy is an advanced law school student, who's psychologically deranged about the fact that his teacher is a liberal,(unusually, the term "Liberal" is used, "Conservative" is not)a foreigner that changed his name (though nothing is said as to him possibly being a Jew, we just aren't given any more information than he's from Poland)and worst of all, he insists that there be an element of mercy guiding court judgments, especially in death penalty cases.
Sounds reasonable, but crazy conservative insists on death every time. The always-given hypocrisy of conservatives is revealed here because he's tried to have the Professor murdered. An early depiction of equating conservatives with criminality.
Mothers of Men (1917)
Exploitive pot boiler.
This story involves the seldom seen, if ever phenomenon of a female jurist in those days who is eventually pitted in court against her lawyer husband and later, he's sentenced for a murder he didn't commit, just as she's about to have a baby. It's sheer mawkish mush for those who enjoy a good cry, a typical silent cheapie, with semi-or non- distinguished actors, and unimaginative direction. How come scene after scene has everyone tightly grouped together, so all will be in the shot, even in a larger room? It has strange touches like repeatedly reminding us that the newspaper the bad guy editor edits is called the Democrat, and the weep-insurance of having an utterly gratuitous blind sister, overplayed by a gal that has never seen a blind individual. Like many low budget, states-rights pictures, it has a pretentious but mystifying name, "Mothers of Men" being a phrase usually used in connection with the mothers of soldiers. Here it seems like a copyrighted in advance name. Another classic States rights characteristic was they re-released it with a new name a few years later, now with the equally abstruse alias, "Every Woman's Problem" which by the fantastic novelty of the story would mean the title is the exact opposite of the subject shown.
Moonlight Nights (1925)
A weak excuse for comedy.
This is an example of the low grade states-rights shorts that existed in the silent era. Outside of veteran character player Max Asher, nobody is recognizable here. Nearly everything about it is bad, the humor level is below that of the dreadful Pizor productions, the actors seem mainly unattractive, and all act like the rankest amateurs, throwing exaggerated poses and reactions like they were in a 1902 melodrama or a home movie. The gags are predicable or pointless, the props terribly cheap. Even the positioning in the shots and film editing is poor. A century on, we tend to think of the 1920's slapstick comedy films in terms of Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Mack Sennett, but the picture goer of that time was much more familiar with this sort of thing on a daily basis.
A tasteless helping of shock.
This is one of those plays that, unless it's explained beforehand, one doesn't realise it is intended as comedy until a few minutes in. The court case depicted seems at first to involve a thoroughly corrupt, evil doctor who has cold bloodedly had a patient's healthy legs amputated as he supposedly wished it. He died of shock hours later, and then forced a colleague into a compromising situation to cover it up. Then we hear more about the patient's desire for the amputations, and I thought this may turn into an examination of the bizarre psychological dementia known as apotemnophilia, where the patient indeed does want limbs cut away. But soon it dawned on me, slow that I am, that the characters, that came to testify as well as the judge, are dim or exaggerated comedy types that have silly mannerisms and unintentionally funny things to say, even as the story grows ever more sinister. It comes out that the doctor is part of a conspiracy to make unknowing customers of a clothing shop into willing amputees, and has been a success with hundreds of now-satisfied victims.
This sort of gruesome black humour is the sort of product that comes from uninhibited contempt that elite actors and writers have for their audience in Britain. Needless controversy for it's own sake. That it slanders the medical profession held up it's transmission for two years, but it should have just been "wiped" instead.
The Defenders: The Accident (1961)
Science v. Faith
The story involves a boy's injury after an auto accident, but his parents are against surgery because their religion forbids it, he dies soon after.
The flighty girl that caused the accident while driving drunk is early on established as a low intellect, emotional child-woman whom we can freely pity and care about, whereas the parents are rigid, and stone faced, holding to their extreme dogma that all but insures the boy's death. (The name of their church is a made-up denomination.)
A shining hero in the form of the state appears, overriding the parent's stupid superstitions and the boy does get worked on, but maybe too much time was lost arguing with the primitives, and death comes.
Later in court, a doctor testifies that possibly operating in time might not have saved the lad's life. So the medical profession, and science, is off the hook. Then it comes out that the prayer-obsessed father made the boy get out of his bed multiple times to pray, rupturing the wounds and that, unsubtley suggests that religion killed the kid. The drunk driver is off the hook too, and gets a slap on the wrist. The lesson here is, I take it, The world would be a better place if we could do away with religious faith just like we can with parental rights.
The Defenders: Killer Instinct (1961)
Anti-death penalty tract.
Shatner plays the squeaky-cleanest defendant ever to face a murder rap. He's an upper class, super clean cut young WASP stock broker, fairly screaming respectability. His strange encounter with a completely unsympathetic, big ugly, poorly dressed creep that starts fights at random, even in Manhattan's crowded morning streets, leaves viewers with no other interpretation other than Shatner's complete innocence and the bully had it coming when he was killed in the scuffle.
After making up these unreal characters and unreal situation, we get to the propaganda freight, also, steeped in unreality. It seems our hero has irrational guilt anyway, and protected himself using combat training from his Korean War service. Why is he guilty? Enough to demand he be found thusly at his hearing. he has an oh-so-high minded speech about the morality of killing and how he wants to take on responsibility for war itself. This self-righteous social-political pomposity is reminiscent of Chaplin's Cri de Coeur about war in Monsieur Verdoux, and just as fake.
Wallace asks various questions about Sanger's attitudes on topics associated with her, including what she thought about those that opposed her pro-abortion work, especially the Roman Catholic church. However, not much progress is made as she dodges, disavows and feigns ignorance of quoted letters she wrote, newspaper interviews she gave and even comments she made to Wallace's staff earlier that week. Perhaps by avoiding answering questions about her own words tells us more about her than she thought she was concealing. She comes off very arrogant and slippery. In a strange twist at the end, I guess to put some kind of light note to the proceedings, she tells Wallace after he does his live pitch for Phillip Morris cigarettes, that though she doesn't smoke, she cheerfully intends to start now, with Phillip Morris.
Wallace had a reputation for being a hard-nosed interrogator with his one-on-one interview on the dark set technique pioneered on "Night Beat". Here, his initial offering in this new series featured film star Gloria Swanson, once a top star in the 1920's, and then making a comeback as a character actress. Somehow, Wallace never gets around to discussing her nightmarish marriage to Wallace Beery, her scandalous relationship with Joseph Kennedy, or the controversial production of "Queen Kelly"(1929) with Eric von Stroheim. Instead, bland conversation about "Hollywood Boulevard"(1950)and her recent work are featured. Also, she brings up a Mexican cancer medicine she's invested in. About the most hard-hitting question asked of her is about her age.
Yet another lesson about those dastardly conservatives.
First, I'll add my sentiments here that though "Burke's Law" could sometimes get a little on the tongue-in-cheek side, accommodating the many guest cameos, it made a wrong turn when they changed it to a humourless, undistinguished secret agent story. It's no wonder that this incarnation was cancelled in mid-season. Perhaps they felt they could stir up interest or maybe controversy with this two-parter. It's about a seemingly thriving American town with upscale, content people. Turns out they're all mind controlled dupes being fed hateful conservative lies via subliminal radio messages. Anybody exposed to TV in the last half century knows what that entails- bigotry and paranoia for anyone "Different". In 1966 you wouldn't go full bore racist, so the lead pipe subtlety here is focused on mere out-of-towners, though unusual for it's time, especially in a silly show like this, at one point in part two "commies" are named. The town boss's goal is that of all those who show right wing tendencies on TV-He has a mad scheme to take over the country. If it weren't for the oppressive "Fairness Doctrine" in effect then, I'm sure they'd just come out and call these power crazed villains Republicans. Another easy show of bravery in the one-sided war against straw men.
Cool and Lam (1958)
Better reading than filming.
When they put this together, they were banking on Gardner's huge success with Perry Mason could be transferred to his other literary creations, private detectives Cool & Lam, they being the stars of a dozen or so successful books.
But the actual execution is problematic. Cool is a big wide matron with white hair who deals with clients and Lam is a very short man who does the detective work, and getting all the lumps. They look comical together, which runs against the overall material because you must take the crime solvers seriously for it to work. These two are more suitable for a burlesque routine. They have little charisma. It's as if they take it for granted you know these characters well already. She's supposed to be a cheapskate. okay, but she says a "cheap" thing, even when it's unnecessary-again and again, like an excuse for a personality.
But there isn't enough time to really develop any chemistry between the leads or for that matter, the story either. There's far too many clues and details to remember for a less than half hour story. If this had been in an hour format, it would flow better and been less confusing. Gardner himself (sitting in the Perry Mason office set on the sound stage at Paisano productions) makes the pitch for sponsors at the opening, but even he seems in a hurry.
Maybe this pair work out in reading their stories, but they're too cutsey and fake to be taken seriously enough here, even if the intention was to deliver a lightweight, Runyonesque farce.
Less than powerful.
Contains spoilers. This installment relied on two tired cliché tropes of crime shows- spoiled monster rich folks and psychotic behavior. Said monsters trap a garage mechanic and later a boozy waitress in their secluded mansion, but there's so many odd things about it- they have a room full of toys they play with- but they're all extremely old, museum type things easily from the nineteenth century, all in fine, working order. Why?
How come, though the baddies are brother and sister, he's got a lower class British accent? And again- why did they trap these two people? The helpless prisoners are bound and gagged back-to-back, cartoon style, and nothing has happened to them. Their hair isn't even mussed when they get rescued. No sexual advances are even hinted at.
It started out looking like a possibly interesting thriller in the style of THE COLLECTOR, but it got tepid and too restrained to be good. Maybe in 1968 they were, at least on this show, extra cautious about offending anyone.
Superficial early Documentary.
Though you might give credit to this series for being among the few prime-time efforts at movie documentaries, it was made in the usual shallow style of Wolper productions. The information may or may not be completely accurate, but they never bothered too much with chancing the audience's attention.
In this one, a lot of use is made of the Nazi documentary "TRIUMPH DES WILENS"(1935) which covered the huge Nürnberg rally of 1934. This is not, as the narration describes, the first Nazi party congress, nor was it staged specifically for the making of this film.
Apparently, Wolper was especially taken with the Paul Muni film, "I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG"(1933)or maybe they just had a copy to use. They tell us this film launched his career, which is not so, nor did it launch the cycle of prison pictures. Either they didn't care to do any research, or more likely, they've written more-interesting-than-facts commentary. The 1960's is pretty much the dawn of film research, and all the docs and the reference books of the time are nearly useless now. Even if they had a somewhat scholarly approach, the subject was only semi-serious. After all, how comprehensive can a topic like all advocational propaganda films of Hollywood and Europe made up to 1963 be in less than a half hour? It was good enough then, but disappointingly inadequate today.
O.K. Crackerby! (1965)
Supposedly creators Abe Burrows and TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory contrived to scientifically design a situation comedy that would be perfect, but their calculations were way off the mark.
Often the characters Burl Ives played were of the friendly bumbling sort that Edgar Buchanan might play, but clearly here he is coming from the "Big Daddy" persona from "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" He's supposedly the richest man in the world, an Oklahoma Oil baron. He's not a lovable, masculine version of Auntie Mame, more like an arrogant, intimidating ignoramus like Donald Trump. He buys a supposedly super luxury hotel to live in and the series pretty much never leaves the woefully unluxurious sets representing it. He purportedly has just left the oil patch to now break into high society, but it seems more like he wants to break high society, using money to buy in, or to destroy anyone who disagrees with him. He has a far off location with a computer that knows who owns what, and how he might take it from them, like a comic book supervillian. He's devoid of a sense of humor. He's scary. He's stupid, too. The worst part is, most all the time, his tactics pay off- The bully wins. I don't know what it's supposed to say, unless it's that self-made capitalists are immoral. No wonder it was killed off in mid season.
Suspenseful moments, but weak
I saw this same story on a live 1952 Philco-Goodyear Playhouse. This time with more formidable actors, but the flaw is in the production. The story was about a man who suffers all his married life by his miserable, ever-nagging and demeaning wife. While visiting a hotel, she pushes too hard by threatening to reveal to his daughter her real birth status. He smashes a mirror and takes a long sword-like "segment" of broken glass and holds it to her throat, determined to murder her after he finishes his long list of unforgotten trespasses on his dignity.
Police monitor his movements with a remote TV camera with a Zoomar. A sniper nicks his shoulder and they break in to save the woman. Then, after all this insanity and terror, not to mention property destruction, she apologizes very very much, and he does too, AND THEY LET HIM GO! the wife and daughter promise how nice it'll be when they return home and they'll convert a room for his den, etc. Then, without thinking, she starts with small nagging again. The man (William Bendix) looks at us as we fade out. A second longer and he would have given us Chester Riley's payoff line, "What a revoltin' development THIS is!". And he'd be right. The Philco version was so much better, but this is the problem with Ford Theatre in general- They hate real drama and insist on happy endings, no matter what it does to the story. A classic Screen Gems treatment.
Miami Undercover: The Thrush (1961)
Strange lack of competence.
Contains Spoilers...... This show is obviously one of ZIV's lesser titles, and it's obvious why, and that's because it lacks the usual slick professionalism one gets in their productions. One things is the clumsy dialogue that seems like a kid's interpretation of crime story. The funny bits and masculine kidding around with Graziano are awkward and forced. The worst aspect is the illogical plot points like for instance, if you were a gangster trying to force a DJ to play a record, would you not only approach him ON AIR, but shoot him down ON AIR when he refuses? If you were said DJ, would you boldly yell into the mike that the crooks were there and say, as they draw guns, that he wants to "alert the Miami police department, I'm now going to give a description of these men..." and they chop him down. Another insane disconnect from logic and human nature comes as the crime boss, knowing that his two henchman believe he betrayed them, willingly goes alone to a secluded beach to explain himself, unarmed.
The drug-addiction problem is addressed in strange terms. The addict that is at the centre of this story is a "sick" comic, a small but growing class of stand-up comedians of the era that used shock to get attention. Leading the pack was a man named Lenny Bruce, who was also an addict, so maybe he was in the scriptwriter's mind.
The hero of this tale committed murder while in a drug-addled frenzy, thus giving impetus for a capitol trial, rather than some dreary dope bust proceeding, but nevertheless the courtroom scenes (typically for this series) turn into a social justice soapbox. Things that could never be allowed outside of a Hollywood fantasy courtroom occur, with preposterous questions motivated by liberal dislike for drug enforcement laws brought up, including asking a witness being asked if we (society) has the moral right to judge the poor junkie. The unsympathetic cop in charge of the narcotics unit and the comic's father-in-law are unreasonably, incoherently intolerant of poor dopers, just to make sure you're aware of who to sympathise with.
Was this trip necessary?
The portrait of the socially awkward train spotter, trapped in a boring office job is ultimately a strange and pointless one. He is incredibly, white-hot consumed by minutiae of all things railway, down to ridiculous bits like memorising way out-of-date schedules and the sequence of long gone engineer's signals. When he sets out to see and ride the last train to pass through an outmoded tunnel, there are people that are as deeply obsessed as he is, yet people from outside their passion, especially family members, are repulsed by them. They in turn are quite willfully ignoring them at all costs. They are a nasty lot as well. So who are we supposed to take sides with, and how are we supposed to regard them? Pity? Condemnation? They stay in their decaying little bubble, so do we dislike them for not participating in our, fabulous, non trainspotting world, or see it as a desperate bunch, turned weird by our awful non-trainspotting world? In the end, we just don't care.