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I try, in my reviews, to tell anyone who is interested in my opinions, to say what showed up on the screen, how well it worked, and how it fits into the vast array of films I have seen. I certainly don't expect a reader to agree with my opinions, but I will try to continue offering those opinions, as honestly as I can, about the film under discussion.
Mr. District Attorney (1941)
Pretty Good Crime/Comedy Crossover
Dennis O'Keefe is straight out of law school. He comes to LA to wangle a job on District Attorney Stanley Ridges' staff, and promptly annoys newspaperwoman Florence Rice and gets a crook a mistrial, Then he gets assigned to a case that has gone nowhere for years, involving Peter Lorre, the missing cash from an old bank robbery, and Minor Watson, who is running for Ridges' job and looks to be a shoo-in.
It's the first movie version of the popular radio show, and a pretty lively one. It has lots of gags in the relationship between O'Keefe and Miss Rice, both of them excellent farceurs, gradually moving into a crime and action sequence, with an exciting chase. It's directed by William Morgan, one of those directors who had been editors, and thus could 'cut in the camera' for an economical shoot. His career was never particularly distinguished, but he does a good job here, with a good script. Definitely worth your time.
How Do You Know It's Love? (1950)
So Ths Is Love?
A boy and a girl are dating, and they think it's love. The boy's brother suggests a double date with his fiancee and him; the girl's mother lectures her on the various sorts of love, and "mature love".
Like every Coronet short I've ever seen, it's earnest, cheaply done, poorly acted and mostly dull. It does have the advantage of tackling the issues of the various sorts of love in a way, but elevates "mature love", settled, familiar and comforting, to its end-all and be-all. I'm not saying that's wrong, but when two kids are thinking about sex, that's not what's on the small remnants of their minds.
Louis Jordan and his group play "Caldonia,", "Honey Child," "Tillie" and 'Buzz Me" in this two-reel short.
Actually, I didn't see the entire short. The four songs were chopped up for "soundies", very short films that covered a song, and were available for a variety of sources, often used in bars, like a juke box with pictures. The one I looked at was "Caldonia", and it was a pleasure to see Jordan and 'Doc' Cheatham. Cab Calloway is supposed to have been in this, but he must have appeared in one of the other songs.
Once Too Often (1950)
Jack Lemmon Stars!
All right, he's uncredited, but then so is everyone else in this short training film, urging servicemen not to ignore ordinary safety precautions while on leave. Jack's role is shot wild, and some sound effects added later, but he's instantly recognizable, not only by his looks, but that jittery energy he showed in his early films. He later said it was his first substantial part.
At least Lemmon is present. Constance Ford is credited on the IMDb as a bar girl, but that sequence was excised from the print I looked at.
According to the archivist at the AMIA 'Road Show' in which this appeared, this short shows 17-year-old dancer Blanche Deyo, doing some of her routines. It was shot at the American Biograph Studio on their proprietary 68mm stock. It was not so much intended for public showings, as to send to London impressarios to impress them enough to hire her. It did.
Like most of the recent restorations of the Biograph prints, it is quite lovely to look at, especially if, like I, you have spent the last half-century looking at 16mm, miscropped prints.
'Cause You've Got....
Frank Whitbeck narrates this piece puffing some of MGM's newest players, including Donna Reed, Van Johnson, and Esther Williams, some who worked and never made the top rung, like Susan Peters, and some whose names faded into obscurity.
More than the players themselves, it's a puff piece for MGM. Back then, the studios had distinct personalities, and MGM's motto was 'More stars than there are in Heaven' and the short ends with a fanfare and a series of shots of the current names. That's what MGM thought would sell pictures!
The Wolf has escaped from prison, and the cops have set the blood hounds on his trail. Also Droopy. No matter where the Wolf runs to, Droopy is always there.
Tex Avery was not a fan of series characters, but there is something in Droopy's stoic passivity that kept him going for 19 cartoons. Of course, the outsized reaction of the Wolf to Droopy's monotone made the cartoons work, but that's not all there is to it. There's Avery's wild gags, including one when the Wolf runs off the film. Anyway, lots of fun!
Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939)
Last Farrell 'Torchy' Movie Is Typically Well Done
In her last appearance as Torchy Blane, Glenda Farrell writes a series of stories about the corrupt mayor. When the reform candidate is murdered, she becomes a candidate for the office.
Miss Farrell largely disappears from the last third of the movie when she disappears, and Barton MacLane investigates what he thinks is her kidnapping. I suspect Miss Farrell's contract was ending, and so her role was reduced. Even so, there are plenty amusing bits to this movie, with the usual gang appearing.
The Detective's Conscience (1912)
A Sense Of Family
Burton L. King disguises himself as an escaped prisoner. He seeks refuge with moonshiner Romaine Fielding and his sister, Adele Lane, to get the goods on the operations. As part of the detecting work, he makes love to Miss Lane, and winds up marrying her, before he coordinates a raid and puts Fielding away. Then he writes a note to Miss Lane, and goes away. Two years later, Fielding gets out of prison, and King decides to visit his wife and their baby.
I suppose it shows his dedication to his undercover work, so to speak. Like many of the Lubin movies, it is very well shot, and well behind the times in terms of story-telling and acting. King and Miss Lane were married in real life until his dea in 1944 at the age of 66.
The Mutations (1974)
Donald Pleasance is a Very CHerman professor of biology at an American campus. At home in the family mansion, he is conducting experiments to reunite the animal and plant kingdoms, so humans can love on air, and not go anywhere, leaving them time to think about how to solve problems. Like termite, I suppose. Meanwhile, a thoroughly nasty Tom Baker runs a freak show.
There are references to Tod Browning's FREAKS, and Pleasance's great achievement so far is to have devised a mobile, carnivorous plant beast with suckers. Like most movies of this sort, it's probably thoroughly muddled, or perhaps my attention wandered for five minutes at a time, while I wondered why Jack Cardiff, arguably the finest Technicolor cameraman ever, was directing, and directing clunkers like this.
Well, it was his last time as a director, and he went back to the work that he did well. With Michael Dunn and Jill Haworth. Now, there's a pair to lead a movie!
Licorice Pizza (2021)
Muddled With Interesting Detailed
Alana Haim admits to being 25, and may be 28. She has no idea what she wants to do. Cooper Hoffman is 15, a successful child actor, a budding entrepreneur -- waterbeds and newly decriminalized pinball machines -- and wants her.
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest movie is set, like Tarrantino's ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, in Los Angeles some time in the 1960s or 1970s -- the scripts make Leave It To Beaver contemporaneous with the Oil Crisis. Anderson takes a viewpoint that is more realistic, more sympathetic, and at the same time, more cynical. His camera looks at its subjects like 1970s cameras did; people are not flattered by the 1970s clothes they wear, and the visible architecture is tired and ugly. And no one approves of the relationship between the leads, not even Miss Haim.
The movie is filled out with contemporary individuals, some appearing under heir real names -- John C. Reilly appears as Fred Gwynne in Munsters make-up, and Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters -- while others show up under pseudonyms -- Christine Ebersole is Lucy Doolittle, clearly a drunken, foul-mouthed Lucille Ball hyping a thinly disguised YOURS, MINE, AND OURS.
As for the story, well, it's like most of Anderson's movies, a tale about not particularly likeable people trying to be happy in a world that doesn't approve of anything. I suppose it reflects reality, in that it's thoroughly muddled, but I prefer a bit more clarity in my stories.
Satan Met a Lady (1936)
When Comedy Meets Bette Davis, Everyone Loses
Everyone hates this movie. Bette Davis called it the worst movie she was ever in. I don't think it's a great piece of film making, just another Warner Brothers B remake of a durable property, THE MALTESE FALCON, competently directed by William Dieterle as a comedy.
The problem is that people can't view it that way. The next remake was a classic, made John Huston a leading director and Bogart an actual star. The first version spent many years in the shadows, until its revival on TCM showed it to be a solid pre-Code with a real sense of style. Warners remade THE BUTTER AND EGG MAN five times officially, three or four more times unofficially, and they'd probably still be reviving it if Mel Brooks hadn't stolen it for The Producers. As for Miss Davis' comments, she was a great dramatic artist, but think of her comedies and try not to retch.
But everyone else in this version is pretty good: Warren William, playing a barely Code-compliant version of his pre-code rotter; Arthur Treacher ripping up William's apartment and playing ring toss with lampshades; Alison Skipworth, amiable and bigger than life; and best of all, Marie Wilson. How did they get this one past the Hays office? Did they borrow Preston Sturges' compromising photos of Joe Breen?
It is, as I said, not a great movie like the Bogart version, or a fine one like the Ricardo Cortez version. It is, however, a perfectly decent and amusing comedy version of a story about everyone double-crossing everyone else. Except for Miss Davis.
Below the Deadline (1946)
Nice Little Noir
Warren Douglas is back from the war and prepared to take over his dead brother's night club. The mobbed-up guys who have been running it are not keen on the idea, but he settles them with his fists. He thinks he's paid his dues and is ready to get fat, but when it turns out that he's been using underage girls in the racy shows, and falls in love with Ramsay Ames, his conscience revives. THen it turns out his brother isn't dead.
It's a Monogram movie directed by William Beaudine, so you probably wouldn't expect it to be very good. It's not great, but it is a solid little noir, thanks to a decent script (co-written by Ivan Tors), and a cast good enough to get it on the first take, even on Monogram's uninspiring budgets.
Otoko no hanamichi (1941)
Must The Show Go On?
Kazuo Hasegawa is a leading kabuki performer, specializing in women's roles, and living that life in furtherance of the art. She is, however, going blind. When Roppa Furukawa cures his blindness, he is grateful, but Furukawa is not interested in money. Hasegawa pledges to come whenever Furukawa calls. When Furukawa tells Sadao Maruyama he can have Hasegawa come and dance, the daimyo does not believe him. The artist is well known for his professional pride, including not being a performer at a 'drinking table.' Furukawa sends a message to Hasegawa, who is performing before an audience, and prepares to kill himself if the entertainer fails him.
Kazuo Hasegawa (1908-1984)began his acting career at the age of 5. He had achieved distinction when he made his firs movie in 1927, and would eventually appear in more than 250 films by 1963. This glimpse into the art of kabuki, its ethos -- clearly the show must go on is not limited to the Western theater -- and the dignity and self-worth of professionals is interesting to watch, although its foreign nature makes it obscure to me.
Blondin i fara (1957)
Swedes Can Produce Stupid B Movies Too!
Mark Miller is a New York reporter assigned to write a series of stories about Swedish night life and make out with as many blondes as possible. Among those he gets involved with is Anita Thallaug, who performs in a night club in a bustiere. She is also a dope addict. To follow up this story, Miller tracks down the head of the drug ring.
After a lifetime of distinguished Swedish film makers like Bergman, Lindhof, Sjöström, and Molander, it's a bit of a relief to find an ordinary B movie from a Swedish director, in this case, Robert Brandt . Brandt does not meditate on fate, a world without a G*d, or any of the deep-dish topics I have grown used to. No, he shows us the seamy side of life, with a shoot-out in an amusement park, with Miller wielding a gun so much better than the Swedish police, a couple of whom get shot by the bad guy. After all, he's an American, which is why all the Swedish women love him.
This doesn't make it a distinguished movie in the least. The best that I can say is that it's an ordinary movie that could be set any place. At least the dubbing into English for the American release was good.
That Rascal (1932)
No Jazz Singing
Harry Barris and Audrey Ferris want to get married, and her father, Harry Holman, likes Barris' piano playing. However, he hates it when Barris sings songs like "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal, You".
Barris, like Bing Crosby, came out of the Rhythm Boys, and was a popular singer and composer in the 1930s, but his movie career was nowhere near as successful. For one thing, he didn't wear a hairpiece, and for a second, he had nowhere near as easy-going a demeanor on screen. In the shorts he appeared in for Al Christie, he played a rather frenetic fellow, but it wasn't enough to sustain a career as a movie star, so he had to be content with a successful recording career, and composing songs like "I Surrender, Dear."
Top Hat (1935)
Among my oldest friends is TOP HAT, the movie which perfected the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers formula set up in THE GAY DIVORCEE. Fred Astaire complained during production that he had no character and there was no plot. True enough, but who cares? Fred Astaire is a dancer. His best friend is Edward Everett Horton. Astaire loves Miss Rogers, and she hates him until the challenge dance, "Isn't It A Lovely Day To Be Caught In The Rain," but complications ensue. There's an elaborate Art Deco set, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, and Helen Broderick are along for the ride, and Irving Berlin provides the songs. Who could ask for more than that? Not me!
I grew up with the TV version that played on TV all through my youth, so when Ted Turner struck new prints from the camera negative in the 1980s, cuts were restored, including the title sequence, I was, and remain dazzled. This is the sort of movie about which people remark "They don't make 'em like that anymore." It's true. What a shame.
Queenie of Hollywood (1931)
Fourth Of A Pretty Good Series
In the fourth short in the Hollywood Girls series, ever hopeful Virginia Brooks, Rita Flynn, and Jeanne Farrin are on their uppers, owing everyone. So they take jobs as chambermaids at a hotel. This being a comedy, they are mistaken for royalty traveling incognito, are pampered by the hotel, and sought after by a convention of movie producers who show up.
There are a couple of good physical gags and funny situations under the expert direction of William Goodrich -- the pseudonym of Roscoe Arbuckle after he was banned from films, after being found not guilty of murdering Virginia Rappe.
The title refers to the girl's dog Queenie, a movie regular since 1922, and one of the sources of confusion that set up the situation.
The Lure of Hollywood (1931)
Hollywood hopefuls Virginia Brooks, Rita Flynn and Phyllis Crane finally get a break and cast.... but when Miss Brooks is rehearsing a love scene with her leading man, boyfriend George Chandler doesn't realize it and knocks him down. Later, the director forgives them, and Miss Brooks kisses him..... and Chandler, at the craft table, starts throwing pies.
It's one of the best pie fights I've seen in sound pictures, and the fun doesn't stop there. The third of four shorts in the Hollywood Girls series shows director Roscoe Arbuckle's sure ability with physical comedy and will please people with a taste for slapstick.
Crashing Hollywood (1931)
"Fresh from the farm"
When Virginia Brooks comes to Hollywood, her cousin, Phyllis Crane, and Miss Crane's room mate, Rita Flynn, wonder how they're going to take care of her, with sixty cents between the two of them and the studios closed for the summer. But Miss Brooks has a talent for talking repo men out of their goods, and cash-only grocery store owners out of the makings for breakfast. Miss Crane tries to get the three of them into a studio through boy friend Eddie Nugent, which gets him fired, but the studio head lets them off, because he wants to marry Miss Brooks.
The second "Hollywood Girls" shorts is quite good. With characters established, director Roscoe Arbuckle can concentrate on the funny situations, including a wild Hollywood party that gets raided. See if you can spot 15-year-old Betty Grable among the players.
Three Hollywood Girls (1931)
First Of The Series
Leota Lane, Phyllis Crane, and Rita Flynn are three hopefuls new to Hollywood. They find the going a lot tougher than they expected, until Eddie Nugent shows up with a script for an old-time melodrama.
It's the first of the "Hollywood Girls" shorts that Jack White produced for Educational Pictures during the sound era. Clearly director Roscoe Arbuckle is uncertain of how to pace comedies during the sound era, and a lot of the two reels is used in establishing character. It's clear that with a script co-written by James Gleason, that there's a lot of possibility in the series idea, but the viewing was not helped by a wonky sound track.
Now's the Time (1932)
Potatoes Are Cheaper, But Not Plumbers
Harry Barris and Mary Carlisle are smitten with each other, but her father, Edgar Kennedy thinks Barris is making a play for his second wife when Barris sneaks into the Kennedy home disguised as a plumber.
This comedy is better put together than the other Kennedy-Barris short I've seen. There were only two, but it's possible Al Christie thought they would make a good comedy pair. However, Kennedy was soon off to RKO, where his COMMON MAN shorts series lasted until his death in 1948.
He's a Honey (1932)
No He Isn't
Harry Barris wants to get married to Eleanor Hunt, but there's an impediment in the way, so he tells her he'll sing "I Surrender, Dear" during his broadcast if they can be wed.
Most of the fun in this wan comedy is provided by Edgar Kennedy, who does a fast version of his patented "slow burn". Kennedy had been a member of Sennett's Keystone troupe in the 1910s, and at Roach in the late 1920s. He had left Roach the year before this short, part of the diaspora of talent including director George Stevens. He would soon settle in at RKO, where his "Common Man" series of shorts would continue until his death in 1948, amidst a lot of appearances in features.
Barris was a songwriter as well as a performer, a member of the Rhythm Boys like Bing Crosby, and writer of "Mississippi Mud". He would continue in the movies until 1950, often as an uncredited piano player. He died in 1962, age 57.
A Fowl Affair (1931)
For The Birds
It's a burlesque of a melodrama in which all the parts are taken by birds. There's lots to be offended by, given that it's a talking comedy, with lots of stereotyped voices, and so forth, and it's not too long before you get tired of the gimmick.
Hal Roach tried a series like this in the early 1920s. It was called the Dippy Doo Dads, and all the performers were animals. It was very expensive to produce, not popular enough to keep going, and surviving examples show up every now and then.
Expensive Kisses (1930)
Worth The Price
Bert Roach has just divorced his latest wife, and that's another half million dollars down the drain. He bets Ernest Woods that he can keep away from women: $1,000 a kiss, $5,000 if he gets engaged, and $10,000 married, all payable to the orphans. When they get to Roach's home, they discover that his uncle in Turkey has died and left him his harem, all of whom lack daddies.
It's a pretty good comedy directed by shorts specialist William Watson for Al Christie, who was now releasing through Educational Pictures. The coming of sound had cut down on the number of independent comedy shorts, and although the arrangement would continue through 1938, when Educational would be folded into 20 Century-Fox, the new comedy stars would be more about talk and less about visuals.