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Entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons!
Once upon a time, old films on the Late, Late Show were the object of derision, antiquities from another era, now merely of interest as something to chuckle at in the wee small hours of the morning. Happily, those days are gone forever, and vintage films now get the respect they so rightly deserve, no matter what their age, and no one more than I supports this more intelligent, enlightened attitude. But there are still quite a few turkeys lurking in the vaults which deserve the raspberry, but still manage to provide an hour's perverse diversion simply because they are so bad. One such is Bedside. In March 1934, Variety noted that "after being exploited for a solid hour as a gambler, drunkard, cheat and fraud, Warren William is unable in the last three minutes to rehabilitate himself in the grace of the spectator...the chief emotion aroused is regret that he gets the girl instead of taking the jail sentence he very richly deserves...the story is beyond saving, nor is it worth salvage...no picture is better than its plot, and this scenario is hopeless." A classic this is not, but therein lies the secret of its charm. Today's viewers can sit back and watch an abundance of such pre-code plot devices as pre-marital sex and drug addiction, with critical brain operations and bringing the dead back to life merely thrown in as side issues, set against a background of slick 1930's sets, one mind-boggling situation following another, the sum total of which would keep one of today's soaps going for at least six months if not a year. You won't believe a word of it, your jaw will frequently drop at the sheer, shocking absurdity of it all, to say nothing of the fact that the players manage to say their lines with total sincerity, without ever once cracking up. So relax and enjoy it. That's what movies like this are for. Watch for it on Turner Classic Movies; it's in their library.
The Painted Desert (1931)
It's Not All There
The Painted Desert was one of the last features to be produced by Pathé in 1930 before being taken over by RKO, and one of the first to be released by the emerging RKO-Pathé Distributing Corporation. After its initial release it was put back on the shelf, supposedly never to be seen again. During this time four key action sequences were removed to be used as stock footage in later RKO films, among them the 1938 re-make also titled The Painted Desert. In 1955 the RKO library was sold to C&C Television Corporation for TV syndication, primarily on CBS affiliated stations, and both versions of The Painted Desert were in the package. 35MM source material for these 16mm television prints was missing all of the deleted footage, so that what remained, and all that viewers have been able to see for the last fifty years, was a lot of talk, and practically no action. The sequences which are missing are most of the cattle stampede at the beginning of the film, a wagon hi-jacking and subsequent stampede into the canyon mid-way into the film, an attempted, but unsuccessful wagon hi-jacking soon afterwards, and the big mine explosion and resultant landslide that destroys the mining camp further on. (Two very impressive shots from this last sequence can be found in Republic's Red River Valley (1936).) Frustratingly, the results of these events are shown, and much talked about, but the events themselves are nowhere to be seen. The version shown on Turner Classic Movies, though of superior visual quality, having been derived from the surviving original 35MM material, is still missing these key sequences, though no mention is made of it on the air.
Even with what must have been some well executed and nicely photographed action sequences, The Painted Desert would still suffer from many of the same problems that make it so hard to take today, only less so. The direction by Howard Higgin is of the burdensome, slow moving style that typifies so many early sound films, best and most often described as "creaky." But William (billed as Bill) Boyd displays all the positive and natural characteristics that made him popular with audiences five years later as Hopalong Cassidy. We hear too often about the handful of silent players who did not make the transition into sound; Boyd was one of the greater number who did. As for Gable, in his first speaking role, it's all there. When he's on the screen, you know you've got something, and, as they say, the rest was history. Helen Twelvetrees was a competent actress who found her niche in big city melodramas, often as the victim of her environment, or the bad, bad people inhabiting it. She suffered a lot, but she suffered well. The only conceivable reason why she was so badly mis-cast in this film must have been that she was under contract to Pathé, and owed them a picture, or was being punished for not playing ball with the front office, or something like that. Charles Sellon as a tipsy miner is just plain tiresome. Farnum and MacDonald give just exactly what we've learned to expect from them, on target performances of the old school.
Under ordinary circumstances, such a film would be of little value today, and probably rarely, if ever shown. But The Painted Desert is Clark Gable's first prominent role, and his first sound film, granting it a permanent place in film history, as well as an object of interest. Copyrighted by the soon-to-be-defunct Pathé Exchange in January 1931, this film fell into public domain when the copyright was not renewed in 1958, and during the ensuing years has become a staple of videotape distributors who specialize in titles over which there are no longer any legal restrictions, but which have some modicum of popular appeal. Promoting Clark Gable's presence, usually with latter day publicity photos in which he appears older, and hence, the film younger, a lot of usually inferior copies of the truncated version have found their way into a lot of videotape collections and/or thrift shops.
It would be nice to think that the film might be restored to its original length by re-inserting the missing sequences, if and when they could be identified and found, but this is highly unlikely. If a complete, original print could be located somewhere, at least Turner Classic Movies could be alerted to upgrade their version; in the meantime, at least an awareness of what we've got, and what's missing, might make The Painted Desert a little more tolerable for Clark Gable completests if no one else.
Correction of Identification
The cop's son, as correctly identified in the cast list, is played by Regis Toomey, not by "a very young William Holden" as stated by another viewer.
William Holden (I) (1918-1981) did not enter films until 1938.
The William Holden (II) in this film (1862-1932) is a much older character actor, who plays Inspector McArthur, and who is no relation to his better known latter day namesake.
Considering the six year gap between their two careers, there is really no reason to confuse the two actors.
For further information on Regis Toomey, consult his webpage.
The Big Trail (1930)
Grandeur Version vs. Standard Version: They are not the same.
Contrary to the comment posted directly below, The Big Trail (1930) was not filmed in a three-camera process "much like the later Cinerama." That was the finale to Napoleon (1927), a different film entirely! The Big Trail was simultaneously shot in both 35mm and 70mm (Grandeur) versions, and both versions are shown on Fox Movie Channel from time to time, so it's easy to compare one with the other. The Grandeur version (broadcast in letterbox @ approximately its original 2-1 ratio) is more impressive cinematically with its wide angle panoramas, but suffers from the same problem that beset early CinemaScopes, a lack of close-ups forced upon director Raoul Walsh because of focus problems. Scenes involving individuals rather than crowds or long shots are much more effective in the standard version because the camera can move closer to the players thereby achieving a greater sense of involvement for the viewer. Watching the two versions simultaneously, one gets an accurate idea of which shots Walsh chose to shoot close-up, in the standard version, but could not, in the Grandeur version. There are also a couple sequences involving El Brendel: a shell game with Ian Keith, and some business with his wife & a jackass, which are in the Grandeur version, but missing from the standard version.
For the record, The Big Trail is the only one of three Fox Grandeur films which has survived in its original wide screen format. (The other two are Fox Movietone Follies of 1929, completely lost, and Happy Days, which survives only in standard format.) Other studios also experimented with wide film at this time, but the only other one still known to exist in both formats is The Bat Whispers, filmed in both 65mm and 35mm, and released by United Artists. Other wide films were MGM's Billy the Kid (1930) and The Great Meadow (1931), RKO's Danger Lights (1930), and WB's The Lash (1930), all of which can be seen in their standard format versions on Turner Classic Movies. WB's Kismet (1930) was also filmed both wide and standard, but seems to have completely disappeared; it is rumored to be lost.
Why did wide film fail in 1930? Theaters were reeling (pun intended) under the impact of the stock market crash of October 1929, and the spiraling costs of installing sound equipment, and so were adverse to taking on the added expense of installing additional new projection equipment and new wider screens to accommodate just a handful of films, photographed in a variety of different systems that were not even always compatible with each other. It would not be until 1953 when Fox, now Twentieth Century-Fox, would try again, and this time succeed, with the introduction of wide screen CinemaScope.