Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Quicksand," or Crime After Crime

Sacrificing itself this time around to Motion Pictures Told Through Still Pictures with Goofy Captions is the 1950 film ...

... as opposed to slowsand, or even kind-of-fast sand.

Our hero is Mickey Rooney, as a short-but-honest auto
mechanic. It's the perfect job for him -- he doesn't need
a grease rack to get under the car!

One day Mickey is at the diner with future Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd
when something catches his attention --


It is his dream girl -- a woman who looks just like
James Cagney in drag!

Upstaged by the innuendo on a lousy box of candy,
Mickey nevertheless asks female James Cagney out on a date...

...where he learns that she has very expensive tastes.

This causes Mickey to leave his old
girlfriend, Liv Tyler, behind ...

... and embark on a life of petty theft.


Mickey's crime spree involves buying a watch on time
(Ha ha! See what I did there?) and then hocking it. 

And he also holds up a guy just because he
doesn't like straw hats. 

This gets him mixed up with female James Cagney's old
boss, Ugarte from "Casablanca," who has returned from
the dead to run a penny arcade on the Santa Monica pier.

He and Mickey become fast friends ... 

... but Mickey draws the line at playing peek-a-boo, so
Ugarte blackmails him over the straw hat guy robbery.

Now Mickey is really in a spot. He has to steal a
car for Ugarte AND buy him a straw hat. His nerves are on edge.

This leads to a tense meeting with the boss.

Happily, Mickey is shot by the cops and
reunites with Liv Tyler.


Then he realizes his father-in-law will be Steven Tyler,
and he starts thinking about female James Cagney again.




Monday, December 23, 2013

"Dive Bomber," Starring Errol Flynn and ... Jack Benny?

The 1941 film "Dive Bomber" was released a month or so before the attack on Pearl Harbor. America wasn't yet formally involved in World War II, and it would be a few more months before Jack Warner started strutting around the Warner lot in the Army officer's dress uniform he'd had custom tailored in Beverly Hills.

But like a lot of films from that time, "Dive Bomber" anticipates America's entry into the war and gives us a lovingly-presented parade of military might -- in this case it's air power, in Technicolor, yet, and flanked by the rugged faces and forms of Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray and Ralph Bellamy. "Dive Bomber" looks great, and director Michael Curtiz never wastes a patch of blue sky -- there are always planes flying across it while troops and/or equipment pass by below. Dig:


World War II is a thing we're used to seeing in black and white, so the Technicolor scenes in "Dive Bomber" -- especially of real-life settings like an aircraft carrier staffed with actual people -- are riveting:



Based on a story by former Navy flier Frank "Spig" Wead, who also gave us "Ceiling Zero" and "Test Pilot," "Dive Bomber" oozes testosterone -- watching it makes you want to put on a khaki uniform and light up a Camel. Because there is smoking, always smoking -- in fact, the movie is positively Hawksian in the amount of cigarette-related male bonding that occurs. If you like a guy, you offer him a smoke. If you don't, you don't. And the symbol of ultimate bro-ness is to have the same cigarette case as your buddies.

The three guys with the same cigarette case at the beginning of "Dive Bomber" are Navy flyboys Joe (MacMurray), Tim (Regis Toomey) and Swede (Louis Jean Heydt). Watch them frolic and light each other's smokes!



Alas, tragedy occurs when one of the three (the guy whose name isn't as prominent in the credits) passes out during a steep dive and he crashes. On the ground, working in vain to rescue him, is Dr. Doug Lee (Flynn), whose fancy-pants education at Harvard and Johns Hopkins means nothing -- Nothing, you get me? -- when he can't bring the pilot back from the great beyond.

Dr. Doug decides to become a flight surgeon and try to solve the problem of pressurization and oxygen deprivation. In a weird coincidence, he begins flight lessons on December 7 (not 1941, but still). Then Dr. Doug is forced to team with the surly Dr. Lance Rogers (Bellamy), who is bitter because he is a grounded pilot. He doesn't even offer Dr. Doug a cigarette!

So Joe doesn't like Dr. Doug because he couldn't save Joe's friend. And Dr. Lance doesn't like Dr. Doug because he doesn't like anybody. And Joe doesn't like Dr. Lance because he thinks all that medical talk about pilot fatigue is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. So nobody likes anybody. And we lose World War II, the end.

No, just joshing. Everyone ends up respecting the heck out of each other and working together to keep 'em flying. Joe joins the team when one pilot's death due to fatigue hits him right in his cigarette case:



"Test Pilot" is chock full of delicious propaganda -- Hollywood always knew how to sell a war -- and our leading men, especially Flynn, deliver solid performances. There are, however two unnecessary inclusions -- one is Alexis Smith, who spends the movie chasing Flynn even though he doesn't seem that interested. The other is "comic relief" by Allan Jenkins as Lucky, a bumptious sailor who's trying to escape from his equally bumptious wife.                

Since "Dive Bomber" was a big hit at the box office, it was fair game for a parody on "The Jack Benny Program." The show aired on October 26, 1941, so there are opening jokes about Halloween, including this exchange between Benny, sidekick Mary Livingstone and announcer Don Wilson:

Don: You don't have the excitement nowadays that you used to have on Halloween.

Jack: I guess you're right.

Don: I remember when I was back in Denver as a kid. We used to have the time of our lives!

Jack: Denver? You should have seen the way we celebrated Halloween in Waukegan! The old-fashioned pranks we used to play. But -- kids don't have fun like that anymore.

Mary: Whaddya want -- plumbing or fun?

Then comes the parody of "Dive Bomber," with Jack unable to decide if he wants to play Flynn, MacMurray or Bellamy. Finally, the production gets underway, with bandleader Phil Harris as Flynn, Dennis Day as MacMurray and Benny as Bellamy.



And here's the film trailer:







Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"The Life of the Party," or Lightner Up

The 1930 film "The Life of the Party" begins in Times Square, where there are massive crowds even though there's no TGI Friday's or Olive Garden.

Right in the middle of this teeming humanity is the Acme Music Store, where Flo (Winnie Lightner) and Dot (Irene Delroy) charm the customers and try to sell sheet music. Within the movie's first five minutes, Flo manages to plug songs from every current Warner Bros. musical release -- "The Show of Shows," "Show Girl in Hollywood," "Hold Everything," "Fifty Million Frenchmen," "Gold Diggers on Broadway" -- and then she performs a little something called "(He Got a) Poison Ivy (Instead of a Clinging Vine)." See for yourself:



You have just witnessed the only song left in "The Life of the Party."

Originally filmed as a musical, and in two-strip Technicolor, "The Life of the Party" lost its numbers in the great nobody-likes-musicals-anymore scare of 1930, which also caused the film version of "Fifty Million Frenchman" to lose most of its score . On top of that, no prints of the Technicolor version seem to exist, so "The Life of the Party" is a musical comedy with no color, very little comedy, even less music and a whole lot of Winnie Lightner.

Lightner began in vaudeville and signed with Warner Bros. in the late 1920s. After making a big hit in "Gold Diggers on Broadway" and performing "Singin' in the Bathtub" in "The Show of Shows," her screen character was established -- a brash but likable schemer out for a sugar daddy. In this film she and Delroy (who only made another movie or two before disappearing completely) are good-hearted gold diggers, and their target is the sputtering Frenchman LeMaire (Charles Judels). He runs a high-class dress shop staffed by the worst models in the world, who stare at the camera and arch their backs to show how chic they are.

LeMaire gives the girls his choicest frocks, thinking he will see them that evening for some ooh-la-la. But they hightail it to Penn Station and give him the slip. (Get it?) That night, he comes to see the girls with a friend, and -- quel disappointment!



The first few minutes of Judel's furniture-breaking act are kind of funny. Unfortunately, he does the same bit several more times during the movie, with steadily diminishing returns.

The girls end up in Cuba, where Flo meets the eccentric Colonel Joy (Charles Butterworth), who raises racehorses. When Flo discovers that a soft-drink tycoon (Jack Whiting) is also visiting their hotel, she tries to set him up with Dot. Dot, in turn, falls for another guy who in reality is the soft-drink tycoon, because Flo messed up.

Then we're off to the races, where Colonel Joy discovers his jockey is drunk. Despite her heft, age and total lack of ability, Flo ends up riding the Colonel's thoroughbred, and that is not a euphemism.

In the finale, Flo finally figures out who the real tycoon is, and she and Dot stage the old reliable -- a fainting spell -- to get his attention. They do this a lot -- "I've been flat on my back on every floor in this hotel," Dot says. The unwanted Colonel keeps showing up, offering a glass of water.



All's well that ends well -- as for Lightner, she made a few more films at Warner's. Then she married director Roy Del Ruth (who directed this film) and disappeared from the screen by the mid-1930s.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Kept Husbands," or Bride and Gloom

"Whatcha watching?"

Old movie.

"Not really."

Yes. And to anticipate your next question, it's called "Kept Husbands," and it was released in 1931.

"Starring, from the looks of things, Hunky McHunkerson."

You mean Joel McCrea.

"If you say so."

I say so. Yes, he is the male lead. He is a steel worker named Dick. He has been invited to the big boss's house for dinner because he helped rescue three workers and refused any reward for it. The boss is impressed.

"Who's the blonde?"

Dorothy Mackaill, our female lead. She is Dot, the boss's spoiled daughter. At first, Dot makes fun of Dick, but then she makes a discovery about him:



"So he's a former halfback who threw the winning pass to beat Yale? Not to take anything away from his skill, but how hard is it to beat Yale in football?"

Never mind. This helps establish his bona fides as an all-American good guy who loves honest labor and his mother, not necessarily in that order.

"And he's good looking, while Dot's current boyfriend is a pasty-looking guy with a Maybelline mustache. So of course she's going to pick Dick."

Exactly.

"Now here's a new guy who talks like a leaf blower."

That is Ned Sparks, and that voice was his trademark. He plays Hughie, a guy who boards at Dick's mom's house. When Dick comes back from his dinner, Hughie gives him a hard time:



"So I'm thinking that in most other movies he had better lines than that?"

Usually. But I like to include Ned Sparks clips.

"OK. So Dick and Dot get together."

Yes. He is worried that he can't provide for her in the manner to which she is accustomed, but she is persuasive:



"And they take a long honeymoon in Europe. It lasts for like ten minutes, which in old movie time is about three months."

Then Dick goes back to his job, but he's been promoted to Third Vice President, and he does nothing all day. Instead of building bridges, he's shuffling cards and practicing his bridge game.

"There's probably a smoother way to say that."

I don't know -- it's a tricky little simile.

"In other words, Dick has become a -- dun DUNNN -- kept husband."

Yes. Dot is rich but worthless, and Dick is worthless but rich.

"There is truth in what you say."

There is but one hope for Dick -- he must stand up to his wife and go to St. Louis for that big bridge job that will help him regain his self respect.  

"Bridge as in real bridge and not as in a card game."

Yes. I told you it was tricky.  

"So I'm guessing that somebody's going to learn a lesson here, and it isn't Dick."

Dot goes to visit Dick's patient, loving mother, who explains to her that husbands actually WANT to be kept -- not by money, but by love and understanding:



"And only husbands deserve that? Seems to me that's kind of a two-way bridge."

Real bridge or card game bridge?






Sunday, December 8, 2013

"The George Raft Story," or What About Mob?

This time around, Motion Pictures Told Through Still Pictures with Goofy Captions brings you the 1961 opus "The George Raft Story."


We open in a nightclub, with 1960s people dancing they
way they think people danced in the 1920s. In fact, the entire movie
is full of 1960s people acting the way they think 1920s people acted. 



Exhibit A is our star, flipping a coin a la Raft but also smirking in a very 1960s way.
George is working in a nightclub as a bouncer, but what he really wants to do is...

...dance like Jerry Lewis.

Georgie is a good boy! He worships his mother, who talks with
an Italian accent even though she's supposed to be a German immigrant. 


He is also loyal to his childhood friend, The Riddler.

But he is bit of a hound with the ladies, including
Nurse Dixie McCall of TV's "Emergency!", who is wearing
an entirely appropriate 1920s hairstyle.


As this montage cleverly illustrates, Georgie begins working
for the mob even as he follows his dance destiny. 


Then trouble rears its ugly head. When Georgie criticizes John Malkovich's
performance in "Con Air," the backlash forces him to go west.

In Hollywood, George meets Hilary Swank ...

... and they form a dance team.

The dance team attracts the attention of a famous director -- let's call
him Schmoward Schmawks -- who casts George in "Scarface."


Headlines we doubt ever got printed.


Now George is a big star, and he has an affair with another
star -- the fabulous Way Mest, not to be confused with
Mayne Jansfield.

Then George is visited by childhood friend Bugsy "Bugsy" Siegel, who
wants to borrow $100,000 to finish his Las Vegas hotel
and have a life preserver removed from the side of his head. 

When Bugsy is murdered, George goes broke. He moves to Cuba
to become a casino greeter and he packs his satin dancing shirt. 

Then Castro enters the picture and Georgie's future
is uncertain. If only Willy Bilder would make a gangster comedy with
Cony Turtis, Lack Jemmon and Marilyn Monroe ...



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

CMBA Film Passion 101 Blogathon: "Singin' in the Rain"

I was 10 years old when I remember seeing Gene Kelly for the first time, and I was not impressed.

It was 1967, and Kelly was the star of a musical TV version of "Jack and the Beanstalk," and he was just so ... so ...smarmy. I felt like he was talking down to me, and I was 10! Besides, I was much too sophisticated for a story like "Jack and the Beanstalk," musical or no. "The Monkees" and "Batman" were more my speed.

Soon after that I had the opportunity to see "Singin' in the Rain" for the first time, and I was skeptical.

Another musical with Gene Kelly? Puh-leeze.

But this was at a time in my life when I was starting to pay attention to what people considered good movies and why, and also starting to recognize performers, so I gave it a shot.

In many ways, "Singin' in the Rain" was an introduction for me -- an introduction to big-studio moviemaking, an introduction to what Hollywood was like in the late 1920s and an introduction (or a re-introduction) to the greatness of Gene Kelly. This movie alone didn't spur my interest in film history, but it was one of the things that helped ignite it. I knew "Singin' in the Rain" wasn't a documentary by any means, but I also realized that there were real stories behind this one and I wanted to learn more. I'm still learning.

Beyond that, on a purely emotional level, "Singin' in the Rain" radiates joyousness and unlimited possibility. It's a perfect fit for Kelly's athletic, exuberant dancing style. He's Don Lockwood, joyous star of silent movies, making a mint on routine swashbuckler films that don't particularly tax his talent. He rose through vaudeville, performing in tank towns with his pal Cosmo (Donald O'Connor) before coming to Hollywood:



(Gene Kelly never had a better dancing partner than Donald O'Connor.)

When sound movies enter the picture, Don's secure screen persona is jeopardized, and for the first time, really, his ability is tested. Also being tested by the transition, and failing, is Don's screen lover Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), whose voice shatters microphones and whose egomania is positively Kardashian-ian ("I make more money than Calvin Coolidge -- put together!"). Starlet Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) is hired to dub Lina's voice, and she and Don fall in love.

The film's script, by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is incisive and funny, and even more of a wonder when you consider what they were given to work with -- reportedly, producer Arthur Freed just told them to write a movie called "Singin' in the Rain" and to include all his songs. "All we knew," Comden said later, "was there would be some scene where someone would be singing, and it would be raining."

And as good as the script is, "Singin' in the Rain" tells its story almost exclusively through the musical numbers directed and choreographed by Kelly and Stanley Donen. Think about it -- "Good Morning," "You Are My Lucky Star," "Make 'Em Laugh," "Singin' in the Rain" and the "Broadway Melody" ballet, which introduced the 10-year-old me to Cyd Charisse and moved my puberty up by at least a year.

And then there's my favorite scene in the movie, the only dance number in film history built around an elocution lesson:



If you don't have a smile on your face when you watch that, I don't want to know you. You can see the friendly competition between Kelly and O'Connor -- you have to believe that dancing with each other made them both better.

Released in the shadow of Kelly's Oscar-winning "An American in Paris," "Singin' in the Rain" didn't get much attention when it was released in 1952. But it's a more streamlined movie, with genuine comedy and iconic moments. Just show the still of Kelly, with an umbrella, on a lamppost to someone and ask them what movie it comes from -- they'll tell you it comes from the movie with the scene where someone would be singing, and it would be raining.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Neglected Post Theatre: The Animal Kingdom, or Fie, Society

On this edition of Neglected Post Theatre, we take a look at Philip Barry's "The Animal Kingdom," wherein Leslie Howard is married to Myrna Loy but tempted by Ann Harding.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Three Cornered Moon," or Mother, Can You Spare a Dime?

A year before she won an Oscar as a madcap heiress in "It Happened One Night," Claudette Colbert played a not-so-madcap, not-so-much-of-an-heiress in "Three Cornered Moon." 

This 1933 film is an offbeat little gem, a kind of screwball ensemble drama that showcases just about everyone -- Colbert, Mary Boland, Wallace Ford, Tom Brown, William Bakewell, Hardie Albright -- at their best. (The male lead, Richard Arlen, is passable but he always seemed more comfortable in action roles -- here, as a romantic lead, he's punching a little above his weight.)

"Three Cornered Moon" is like an upper-class version of "You Can't Take It With You," but without the too-studied (to me, at least) eccentricities of the Sycamore clan.

Our family here is the Rimplegars, who occupy a comfortable almost-mansion in dear old Brooklyn back in the days when it was filled with almost-mansions. Papa Rimplegar, who ran a prosperous laundry, is gone, and devoted but dotty mother Nellie Rimplegar (Boland) thinks nothing of wearing a fringe-y dressing gown while mixing waffle batter, or of ordering taxis by the handful to accommodate the transportation needs of her grown children -- grounded-but-idealistic Elizabeth (Colbert), law student Kenneth (Ford), aspiring actor Douglas (Bakewell) and student Eddie (Brown). Lyda Roberti is the family's Polish maid, Annie.

The family leads a life of slightly rumpled elegance. Everyone assumes that their financial needs will always be met. Free of burdens like having to work at a job, Elizabeth spends her days with fiancee Ronald (Albright), a suffering writer who's a literary genius in the making -- just ask him. ("You write like a tree on fire!" Elizabeth says in what is supposed to be a compliment.) Together they sit in the park; between them, they try to whip up some existential angst:



Meanwhile, back at Rimplegar almost-mansion, reality is about to come crashing in the door because the family finances have been handed, unfortunately, by Nellie. And suddenly the money is gone -- thanks largely to a hefty investment Nellie made in a worthless mine called Three Cornered Moon.

So the Rimplegars are flat busted, and everyone (except Ronald the writer) scrambles to help. Douglas the actor gets a role in a play that consists of one word: "Yes." In this wonderful scene, he rehearses his heart out as a sympathetic Nellie watches, and does a little dusting:



Eddie gets a job as a lifeguard, and starts avoiding meals, which isn't such a good idea. Elizabeth wangles a job in a shoe factory where, like all the other working girls, she must withstand the unwelcome advances of her boss, or lose her job:



The family's one financial saving grace during this period is family friend Dr. Stevens (Arlen), who rents a room in the house, mostly because he's in love with Elizabeth. And when Nellie accidentally ruins dinner one night, the objective becomes to obtain the good doctor's rent money:



Then a family crisis results from Eddie's lack of food, and a plum job is offered to Ronald the writer. Will he sacrifice his artistic sensitivity to the workaday world for the greater good, or be a selfish boob? And there is another possible financial boost -- if Kenneth can pass his bar exam. On the day when the exam scores appear in the paper, everyone gathers round:



One of the many nice things about "Three Cornered Moon," beyond the ensemble performances and the dialogue, is its resolutely un-magical ending. In other movies, the family might somehow get its investment money back. Here they don't. And darned if they still don't end the movie better off than they were in the beginning.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Awkward Early Talkie Theatre: "Jazz Heaven"

The 1929 film "Jazz Heaven" is the same old story -- boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl break into a piano factory where he can play his song and they end up on the radio without knowing it.

In the 1920s and '30s, song publishers were like recording studios. They were where the hits were born, with the goal being to publish a song and make thousands from sales of sheet music.

The excitement of the music publishing business could be captured onscreen and used as a metaphor for the drama and bustle of a large city, and it's done very effectively in "The Broadway Melody," released the same year as "Jazz Heaven":



Here, by contrast, is the jazzy introduction to the song publishing business in "Jazz Heaven":



Meh.

All of "Jazz Heaven," in fact, is kind of meh -- not terrible, but not memorable. One exception is the featured song, "Someone." Oh boy, is it featured. It's hard to get it out of your memory, maybe because they play it 67 times. And it isn't bad -- Oscar Levant wrote the music.

Johnny Mack Brown, wearing trousers that come up to his nipples, is our songwriter hero, Barry, who has come to New York City from Mobile, Alabama, and has brought along his sing-song Southern accent.

Barry has been working for days on one special song, keeping the other residents in his apartment building up all night. This gets him in Dutch with the landlady, but her softhearted husband Max (Clyde Cook) helps Barry escape her wrath.

Then, hark! There is a female voice in the next room whose vocal improvising lends the ending to Barry's song! He uses it, they meet, and sparks fly. She is Ruth (Sally O'Neil) and she works for Kemple and Klucke, music publishers. She takes Barry, who she calls "Big Boy," to meet her bosses.

If Barry immediately sold his song to Kemple and Klucke, "Jazz Heaven" would be a 10-minute movie. But there are complications. One is that Barry's song needs lyrics, and after meeting Ruth he is inspired to write some, all about love and stuff. Then Barry's beloved piano is destroyed when Max tries to move it and it rolls down a flight of stairs. That's why Barry and Ruth perform the song in the piano factory (Max is the night watchman and he lets them in) and it goes over the air:



Farmers love it!

Bootleggers love it!

Rich people love it!

BUT! There is still conflict in the air. Ruth is being chased by her bosses, Kemple (Joseph Cawthorn) and Klucke (Albert Conti). Klucke tells Ruth he will orchestrate Barry's song and have it performed at a swell nightclub, but only if Ruth accompanies him.

So she does, leading to a misunderstanding on Barry's part, exacerbated by Cawthorn in full-bore cranky mode:



Cawthorn practically had this kind of role trademarked -- see here for more Cawthornian goodness. He does have one of the movie's better lines -- at the nightclub he tells Ruth, "Look at my spats! I got socks on under 'em and everything."

One of the reasons "Jazz Heaven" is so flaccid is the wan performance of Brown, a former football star who ended up making a lot of westerns, including serials. On the other end of the energy scale is O'Neil, who brings a Betty Boop-ish charm to her role. But a Boop alone does not a movie make, and "Jazz Heaven" is just blah.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"A Successful Calamity," or Million Dollar Maybe

The 1932 film "A Successful Calamity" begins with the hero being congratulated by the President, and even though it's only Herbert Hoover, we are still supposed to be impressed.

The fellow being congratulated is Henry Wilton, international man of banking, played by, as the credits list him, Mr. George Arliss. In the early 1930s, stage legend Arliss became the "prestige" star at Warner Bros., where he had his own production unit. He formed a close relationship with Darryl Zanuck, and when Zanuck left Warner in 1933 to form Twentieth Century Pictures, Arliss went with him.

Arliss was best known for dramatic roles. He played British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli on stage and in two films -- for his performance in the 1929 sound version he won an Academy Award.

"A Successful Calamity," on the other hand, is a domestic comedy, and Arliss brings a puckish sense of humor to his performance. Some of his deadpan comic takes are downright Charles Butterworth-y.

As we begin, Wilton is returning to his Long Island estate after a year overseas representing Uncle Sam, negotiating payment of foreign debts. He is coming home to his much younger wife (Mary Astor), two grown children (Evalyn Knapp and William Janney) and a life of dinner parties, tea time and musicales.

Wilton is excited to see his family, but he couldn't care less about the other stuff. They, on the other hand, are major dervishes in the social whirl, and Wilton feels left behind, with only the company of loyal manservant Connors (Grant Mitchell).

Wilton's wife has made many changes to the family manse, including redecorating his bedroom in a modern style that doesn't suit him, to say the least:



Connors has saved the old furniture from Wilton's bedroom and has had it placed in his own room, which is where Wilton finds refuge. He doesn't care for tea times or musicales, but he loves his wife -- they've been married only six years -- and he indulges her love of "culture" and her sponsorship of artistic types, including composer-pianist Pietro (Fortunio Bonanova, nine years before he will become Susan Alexander Kane's voice teacher in "Citizen Kane"). In this scene, Wilton withstands Pietro's recital while flanked by talkative matrons:



Night after night of dinner parties and small talk begins to wear on Wilton. He wants to spend some time with his wife and children, so he gets an idea -- he tells the family he's broke.

"I don't know," says his wife, "whether I can bear to be poor."

But wife and children gather around Wilton while keeping stiff upper lips. Son goes to Wilton's business rival to ask for a job, and lets it slip that things are bad. Daughter goes to accept the marriage proposal of her priggish ex-fiance (Hardie Albright), but ex-fiance changes his tune when he finds the Wiltons are without means:



The wife, meanwhile, leaves with her protege and she's carrying a suitcase. Are they running away together?

The movie doesn't get too worked up about this or any other question. Daughter is spared from marrying a prig and ends up with Randolph Scott, who appears for about 90 seconds. Son's confession to Wilton's business rival triggers a series of events that ends in Wilton spiriting a block of stock away from said rival and making a zillion bucks.

"A Successful Calamity" is what used to be known as a star vehicle, showcasing Mr. Arliss in a dignified, slightly stuffy way. Very little is required of him -- mostly he looks bemused while his family grapples with the possibility of poverty. And watching him act that way is fun -- not a lot of fun, but fun.
  
Here's a trailer for "A Successful Calamity":

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Five Against the House," or When My Baby Smiles at Me I Go to Reno

Herewith, another installment of Motion Pictures Told Through Still Pictures with Goofy Captions, because why not? This time around, it is the 1955 film "Five Against ..." well, see for yourself:

This is not a sequel to "Six Against the Sea," "Seven Against the Sea,"
"Nine Against the River" or "Ten Against the Sea." Look at the word "against"
for a long time. Doesn't it look misspelled? That's some craziness right there.

The five against the house are a group of college buddies
including Wild Bill Hickok ...

Uncle Bill from "Family Affair"... 

Future Sinbad (the sailor, not the comedian)... 

And county agent Hank Kimball from "Green Acres."

They have lots of fun together, going to casinos and such in between
classes at good old not-at-all-fake-sounding Midwestern University.

"Did I ever tell you I live with my orphaned nephew and nieces,
Buffy, Jody and Cissy?"

"Did I ever tell you I once saw Eddie Albert in his underwear?"

Anyway, those are four of the five. And the house they are against
is Harold's Club in Reno, which is a casino which is filled with money.

Oh, and this is important to know -- Uncle Bill goes crazy whenever
anyone tells him he has hair like Donald Trump.


The fifth member of the group is Kim Novak, who is Wild Bill
Hickok's girlfriend.


"Miss Novak, you're trying to seduce me!"


Future Sinbad is the mastermind of the heist, which involves
the incredibly complicated scheme of putting
a tape recorder into a cart.

The plan goes into action with a 1949 Ford, a psychotic war vet and what's left of
Lucy and Desi's house from "The Long, Long Trailer." What could go wrong?  


"... and then there was the time I was in Venezuela and my
manservant, Mr. French, had to take care of the kids ..." 


On the day of the robbery, the guys dress like cowboys.
Their quarry is a heavyset guy wearing his wife's western shirt.


Alas, the plan fails when Sinbad forgets to put batteries in the
tape recorder. And somebody calls Uncle Bill "Trump," so he
gets mad and runs into an elevated parking garage.


"Uncle Bill! It's me, Wild Bill! You're not standing behind me
with a loaded gun or anything, are you?"


Uncle Bill finally breaks down and agrees to consider medical care.
And he reveals his darkest secret:
"Did I ever tell you I once saw Eddie Albert in his underwear?"