Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Versatile Blogger, I

Well, Andrew D. over at "1001 Movies I (Apparently) MUST See Before I Die" has been nice enough to nominate me for a Versatile Blogger Award, which I am told comes with a sizable cash prize!

(Whispering off stage)

Oh.

I mean to say, which I have been told comes with a sizable amount of good wishes! As a recipient of this award, I first of all thank Andrew and urge you to visit his blog, if you haven't already.

Next, I am to offer seven semi-interesting facts about myself. So, here:

1. For over thirty years, from 1981 until last summer, I wrote a TV and movie Q&A column that appeared in about 20 newspapers. It was a great run, but the newspaper business is iffy right now, to say the least, so it came to a close. My collected work is still on display here.

2. I have written seven TV reference books, including one on Television Variety Shows and another on the history of Louisville Television.

3. In the 1980s, when I was younger and had more energy, my dream was to become a TV comedy writer. I completed several spec scripts and got a few positive nibbles from agents in Hollywood, but I couldn't bring myself to bite the bullet and make the move to the west coast. Now I think I satisfy the urge to be funny -- oh, all right, kind of funny -- through Motion Pictures Told Through Still Images with Goofy Captions.

4. I have two granddaughters -- Kennedy, age 2; and Joycellyn, age 5. In my totally unbiased way I think they are the most precious things on earth.

5. Next to old movies, I love old radio shows. And now that they're widely available on MP3 and can be loaded by the dozen onto an iPod, I have built a chronological library of shows so that I can listen hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year. Right now I'm up to March 1947. (Spoiler alert: We won World War II.)

6. I once rode in an elevator with Gene Hackman. He's tall. And when I was in New York City a few weeks ago I saw Jackie Mason walking down the street. He isn't.

7. I have a collection of bound TV Guides going back to 1956.

Still awake? Here are the 10 blogs that I nominate for this award (the official rules say 15, but I think that's too darn many). Some of these are newcomers to CMBA and are excellent:

Speakeasy

Louise Brooks Society

Journeys in Classic Film

Silver Scenes

Dear Mr. Gable

Cary Grant Won't Eat You

A Person in the Dark

Mildred's Fatburgers

Sunset Boulevard

Alfred Hitch-blog


Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Accidentally Hilarious Blogathon Entry: "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman," or A Big Hand for the Little Lady

This is part of the Accidentally Hilarious Blogathon sponsored by your friends and mine at Movies, Silently, so visit them for other entries, eh what?

Great expense was spared in assembling these titles.

"We interrupt 'Sex Sent Me to the ER' for this special report.
A big ball has been spotted in the California desert, just
glowing like anything. All mentally unstable heiresses who
drive big convertibles and have unfaithful husbands are
urged to be on the alert." 


Hmm. Could this be --


-- uh oh. Too late. Nancy the unstable heiress, meet
big ball glowing like anything.


Nancy the unstable heiress (we will just call her Nancy
henceforth) runs in her cocktail dress back to the
thriving desert town of Bleached Skull and alerts the sheriff.

Meanwhile, in the town bar, unfaithful husband Harry is
being very unfaithful with his floozy, Honey. (Or
should that be with his honey, Floozy?) 

Still, Nancy cannot resist Harry's irresistible good looks
and dashing manner, even though to the rest of the
world he is basically a smirk and a necktie.


Nancy tells Harry about her sighting and they set out
to find the glowing ball. 

Suddenly the alien pilot, Mr. Clean, appears out of
nowhere because the producers couldn't afford
a spaceship door. He extends the big fake hand of
friendship toward Nancy -- 

-- and Harry suddenly remembers he left something at
home. His suitcase.


Mr. Clean thoughtfully takes Nancy back home, but she
has experienced special alien radiation, and so, like him,
she gets big fake hands.

Meanwhile, the sheriff finds Mr. Clean, who uses his
alien powers to turn a 1958 Plymouth into a '53 Chevy.

Nancy is very tall now. She starts dating Manute Bol
and gets a job with the power company. 

But revenge is on her mind! So she heads for the
bar at Bleached Skull.

There she finds Harry, and with just a touch of her
big fake hand --

-- she turns him into a badly stuffed Ken doll.


Alas, the end is nigh for Nancy and Ken -- er, Harry. It has
something to do with live wires, but don't ask me what.

The great men of science who have been following Nancy's
unusual case try desperately to control their emotions. The
town of Bleached Skull will never be the same -- at least not
until they rebuild that bar.   




Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Them!" or Ant-y Maim

This time around on Motion Pictures Told Through Still Pictures with Goofy Captions (patent pending) we examine the 1954 film ...



Our story begins in the New Mexican desert, from a vantage
point that makes people look like ants -- GIANT MUTANT ANTS
CREATED BY THE RADIOACTIVITY OF THE ATOMIC BOMB!

Police officer James Whitmore is working with the plane
above to locate a little girl ... 

... they find her in shock, with a look of horror on her face
that can mean she's seen only one thing -- a "Keeping
Up with the Kardashians" marathon. 

And also because her family has been attacked by -- AAHHHH!
Oh, sorry -- that's a yucca tree.

That's better -- AAHHHHH! A giant ant with a face that
looks like the front of a 1953 Chrysler!

Called into the case are FBI agent Matt Dillon, who was
attending a Green Hornet cosplay convention ...

... and Dr. Kris Kringle, an ant expert (Matt Dillon brought
eyeshades for everybody.) 

Led by Dr. Kringle, the humans begin a
constructive dialogue with the giant ants. 

But there are a lot of giant ants and they're heading
toward Los Angeles, lured by promises of
nice weather and good-paying jobs. 

The ants end up living in the Los Angeles river basin
because they love the drag race scene from "Grease."

The authorities try to keep everyone calm.

Tired of being upstaged by Matt Dillon and Dr. Kringle, Whitmore invades
the ant lair in hopes of getting a Facebook selfie with the queen.

The lawmen find a nest of newborn queens and celebrate
the miracle of life by immolating them.

The city is saved -- but despite the most fervent wishes
of the little girl, "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" is
still on the air.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Awkward Early Talkie Theatre: "The Unholy Night," or Regi-Mental

Boo!
There are awkward talkies, and then there are awkward talkies directed by Lionel Barrymore. As an actor he had an appetite for scenery, and as the director of the 1929 film "The Unholy Night" he gives his cast free rein to exaggeratedly express themselves all over the place.









Acting!
This tendency is especially awkward when it comes to our star, Roland Young. His film career would be based largely on one characterization -- the dry-but-witty Englishman. But here, as a Lord who's targeted for death, he has to pop his eyes, wring his hands and largely waste his talent for underplaying.

We are in London, where fog has blanketed the city for days. You can't even see your hand in front of your face, much less someone else's hands around your neck! Yes, someone is strangling the great men of London, and Lord Montague (Young), aka Monty, has narrowly escaped becoming the newest victim. He slips into Scotland Yard and has a nice leisurely chat with the inspectors about what has happened. He also downs several brandy and sodas, leading him to make this observation:

"Being dead must be like living in America -- it's a dry state."

Get it? Prohibition?

I know you're out there, I can hear you breathing.

Monty finds, to his overdone dismay, that the other victims of the strangler terrorizing the city are all his regimental Army buddies (Regiment motto: We put the fun in World War One!). Stout fellow that he is, Monty offers to invite all the remaining officers to his palatial home and explain the danger that they're in.

And sure enough, by the power of Roland Young's sideburns, they gather!

Also in the house are Lord John's sister, the seance-loving Lady Violet (Natalie Moorehead) and her fiancee, a physician (Ernest Torrence). And then we are visiting by Lady Efra (Dorothy Sebastian), whose late father was also a member of the regiment, and her suspicious guardian, Abdoul (Boris Karloff). More murders then take place, and the murderer is somewhere in the house!      

Uncovering the bad guy requires a fake seance and a few other dramatic revelations that the actors react to as follows:

Acting!

Acting!

(See above.)

The story for "The Unholy Night" is credited to Ben Hecht. Considering that he did much better work later, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that his three other co-writers stripped all of Hecht's wit and cleverness out of this script.

Here are the complete credits for "The Unholy Night."


Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Headline Shooter," or Reel Life

In the 1933 film "Headline Shooter," William Gargan and Frances Dee play news hawks who don't really care who they trample over to get to a story, and that is why they are awesome.

Gargan plays Bill Allen, a photographer for Phototone newsreels, and Dee plays Jane Mallory, a newspaper sob sister. Despite the entreaties of friends, family or even the victims themselves, Bill and Mallory -- everyone calls her by her last name -- are pros to the end, and they belong together like Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns in "His Girl Friday."

We first meet the fast-talking Bill as he's getting ready to photograph a beauty contest that will be judged by the head of the Crocker Cracker company, the honorable Franklin Pangborn. Bill has already shot a photo layout with a certain negligeed contestant in bed, eating Crocker Crackers, and he strongly suggests to President Pangborn that if said contestant wins, then a beauty queen will be endorsing Crocker Crackers.

Benchley's having trouble
with his stem. 
Working next to Hobart Cavanaugh?
Sign me up!
The beauty pageant opens the film and we immediately see a cast of welcome faces -- Pangborn, Robert Benchley as the windbag doing pageant play-by-play on the radio, and Hobart Cavanaugh and Wallace Ford as Bill's fellow newsreel photogs.



Immediately after the beauty pageant, there is an earthquake, because Hollywood. And while he's acting all devil-may-care filming widespread destruction, Bill meets Mallory, and together they go looking for scoops. They share a cigarette or two, and then she has to find a way to get back to the paper:


Bill's always been one to play the field, but he can't this dame off his mind, get me? And Mallory has to admit she likes him, too, but that's a problem, because fiancee Ralph Bellamy is waiting for her in her Mississippi home town. So Mallory scrams home on vacation, but Bill ends up there, too, because a substandard dam has busted and caused a flood.

At first, Bellamy -- the boring town banker, natch -- welcomes Bill and Mallory and hopes they tell the story of how corners were cut in the damn dam construction. But when the faulty work is traced to the town judge, the townspeople rally around him (and don't even try to talk to them about the negro situation). Allen is forced to destroy his incriminating film. Ya think he does it?

Meanwhile, Mallory gets back to town and her editor (our old pal Purnell Pratt) gives her a hot story -- a gangster's moll (our old pal Dorothy Burgess) is in the hospital and ready to sign a statement incriminating her boyfriend. So Mallory hotfoots it over and gets her story and the statement:


Then she leaves the hysterical moll in the hospital. Later, traitor!

But wait! Mallory is taken hostage by the gangster and his goons, and Bill and Ralph Bellamy leave no stone unturned in tracking her down. Once they find her, however, Mallory is more interested in phoning in an exclusive than in marrying Bellamy. This leads him to utter this heartfelt final statement:

Ralph Bellamy: I'm going home.

And, with the help of Bill, Mallory tells her story before the cameras:


Here are the complete credits for "Headline Shooter."

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Watching "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" with My 13-Year-Old Self

Two years ago I kicked off this blog with a post about one of my favorite films, 1963's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." I have a great deal of affection for this white elephant of a movie, which I saw for the first time in 1970, when it was re-released to theatres. I was 13.

In honor of the film's release by the Criterion Collection -- Which my daughter gave me for Father's Day! -- and which includes a restored, at least as far as is possible, 197-minute version, I have invited my 13-year-old self, Davy, to join me in watching the film for, oh, about the 912th time.

Welcome, Davy.

"I hate the name Davy."

I know. The good news is, within a few years people will stop calling you that. Except for Grandma Dixie. Grandma Dixie will never stop calling you that.

"Who are you?"

I'm you, 44 years from now.

"Thanks for the warning. I need to start taking better care of myself. How do I know you're really an older me?"

Because I know things about you that no one else knows.

When you were three, you made our mom set a place at the dinner table for Shari Lewis.

When you were six, your first-grade teacher wouldn't let the kids correct mistakes on their papers, so you smuggled erasers to the class and got in trouble.

And you have a fixation on Elizabeth Montgomery.
 
"Hey, I am 13, you know."

Fine. Now I'll just start the DVD player.

"What's a DVD player? Remember, I come from a time with just three TV channels."

A DVD player is a magical machine that lets you watch any movie you want, whenever you want. They'll start appearing in about 1985. Now let's start the movie with Saul Bass's credits and Ernest Gold's merry-go-round theme:


The next thing we see is a ribbon of asphalt across the California desert. The real star of this movie is the American highway system.

"I love car chases."

I know. I'm you, remember? Here's a clip:


Oops. Sorry, wrong movie.

"It looked funny!"

It is -- "21 Jump Street" with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

"Who or what are they?"

Never mind -- back to our movie.


We're introduced to the main characters as Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) drives recklessly past them before flying off a cliff and crashing in a valley. They are:

Failed entrepreneur Russell Finch (Milton Berle), wife Emmaline (Dorothy Provine in hair helmet) and mother-in-law (Ethel Merman):


Dentist Melville Crump (Sid Caesar) and wife Monica (Edie Adams):


Truck driver Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters):


And buddies Ding (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy (Buddy Hackett):


"This is Buddy Hackett's greatest role -- except for 'The Love Bug.' "

Agreed. Before he literally kicks the bucket, Grogan tells the men that he has buried $350,000 from a robbery under a big W in a park about three hours away. And thus begins a race to get the cash. End of exposition. What do you like best about the movie, Davy?

"I hate the name Davy. So here are the things I love most about the movie -- the car chases, Jonathan Winters, Dick Shawn as Milton Berle's worthless brother-in-law -- especially his dancing with Barrie Chase -- "


" -- and when Edie Adams's dress rips and she shows a lot of leg."

Really?

"I'm you, remember? And I'm 13. Oh -- and the airplane flying through the Coca-Cola billboard."


OK, Davy, fair enough.

"I hate the name Davy!"

Now -- let me tell you what I really enjoy about the film: The older I get, the more I appreciate Spencer Tracy's character, Captain Culpeper, who, Godlike, is following the race for the cash. He's about to retire and he's been trying to crack this case for years, and he's about to get his wish.



Look at that guy -- weatherbeaten and wrinkled, but still quiet and calculating. And still wearing a beaten-up old brown fedora -- the same one Jerry Lewis runs over at the beginning. It keeps getting crushed and Culpeper picks it up, pats it back into shape, plops it on his head of snow-white hair and keeps on going. He gets no respect from anyone -- not the police department, not his family -- and he starts to hatch a plan of his own for the cash. This is at just about the time everyone congregates at the Big W.


This is my favorite part of the movie.

I don't know if it's because of the resolution of the mystery, or the fact that we get to see everyone together and playing off of each other. I mean, just look at this lineup -- Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Berle, Rooney, Shawn, Winters, Peter Falk -- and everybody seems so young! Well, except Spencer Tracy.



And you know what else I love? See the cab behind them? It's a 1959 Plymouth Belvedere, the same kind of car we had when I was a kid. I really don't have much of a memory of it because we traded it in when I was seven, so I just like seeing one.

"Can I talk now, old man from the future?"

Please.

"OK. I like this movie because it's big, loud and fast. It excites me and makes me want to learn more about movies. I can't even imagine a time where people can watch a certain movie or TV show any time they want, but that sounds great."

Yes, you'll like it. But avoid any TV show with the words "Real Housewives" or "Bachelorette" in the title. I love "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" because it's a time capsule of Southern California in 1962-63 -- I like looking at the buildings and cars and billboards (there are several "Nixon for Governor" ones; he ran in 1962 and lost). The movie also helps me remember what it was like to be your age -- when my biggest worry was how I was going to do on the math test in Mrs. Wirth's class.

"I have acne, too, you know. And braces. It's not like life in 1970 as a 13 year old is all Popsicles and Kool-Aid."

OK, fair enough. But you have a lot to look forward to -- and you'll be surprised how this movie keeps playing a role in your life. You'll have the pleasure of introducing your son and daughter to this movie. You'll make out at least once to this movie. And as you age and your perspective changes you'll look at it differently.

"OK, I'm looking forward to it. Just one more thing -- the acne clears up, right?"

Yes, David.

"Whew."