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."

Monday, June 16, 2014

"The Fast and the Furious," or Race Relations

Blah blah blah blah another edition of Motion Pictures Told Through Still Images with Goofy Captions. This time it's the 1954 film ...

Look at that truck crashing and blowing up! It has
nothing to do with the plot!

No, this movie isn't about trucks. It's about
race cars, specifically this sleek white Jaguar driven
by the equally sleek Dorothy Malone.

Dorothy is the fast one, and John Ireland is the furious one.
He's an escaped prisoner who doesn't take to answering
questions, not even if they're asked by Zach Galifianakis. 

John takes Dorothy and her car hostage and won't even let
her go to the bathroom.

They cleverly elude police roadblocks because their car
is so inconspicuous.

John still doesn't let Dorothy go to the bathroom ...

... until they enter a road race as a way of escaping to Mexico. 

At the race Dorothy meets an old flame ... 

... but she's starting to take a liking to John ...

... and when they shack up together overnight they
create a few sparks of their own.

Then it's race day!

John has left Dorothy behind for her own safety...

... and through the miracle of rear projection he crashes
past customs and into Mexico.

But wait! Dorothy's old flame is involved in a
startlingly realistic crash with a twig. 

By stopping to save the old flame, John demonstrates his
decency. And he and Dorothy start smokin' again.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Walk East on Beacon!," or Boston Commies

Everything below this logo is made up.

INTEROFFICE MEMO

July 7, 1952

From: J. Wellington Lockjaw, Studio-FBI Liaison

To: Harry Cohn, President


Mr. Cohn:

I have just come from a high-level meeting with J. Edgar Hoover at Madame La Tour's Dress Shop FBI Headquarters regarding our latest cinematic triumph, "Walk East on Beacon!" As you know, the film is based on a story that Hoover wrote for Reader's Digest, and therefore he is especially interested in the film's authenticity and verisimilitude.

Hoover also says he would like his check immediately, or else some embarrassing photos of you and Penny Singleton taken after hours on the set of "Beware of Blondie" will surface.

I screened the film the other night for Hoover and his overall impression was favorable. He did, however, offer a few suggestions, with the proviso that if they aren't followed, some embarrassing photos of you and Evelyn Keyes taken after hours on the set of "The Jolson Story" will surface.

1. Hoover asks that the promotional material for the film somehow include a mention of his new book, 50 Shades of Red, about the need for eternal vigilance against the Communist menace. I told him that wouldn't be a problem. He then expressed a desire for an endorsement quote by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. I also said that wouldn't be a problem, given McCarthy's anti-Communist sentiment. Hoover said that if it doesn't happen, some embarrassing photos of you and Adele Jergens taken after hours on the set of "Ladies of the Chorus" will surface.

2. While watching some of the film's auto chase scenes, Hoover expressed irritation at the chaotic traffic patterns and cluttered intersections and wondered if they could be cleaned up. I told him that was because the film was shot on location in Boston, and that's just the way it is there.

3. Hoover also had some qualms about our leading man, George Murphy, who plays FBI agent James Belden. He asked if Murphy was Jewish and I replied that not only is he not Jewish, he is Irish Catholic, a lifelong Republican and born on the fourth of July. Hoover seemed pleased but added that if Murphy didn't check out, some embarrassing photos of you and Ann Savage taken after hours on the set of "Jungle Jim on Pygmy Island" will surface.


4. There is a scene in the film where an FBI agent is in his office and has a charcoal drawing of Hoover on his desk. Later in the film, in a Soviet spy's office, there is a portrait of Stalin. Hoover wants his picture to be the same size as Stalin's. 


5. Hoover was also concerned that Finlay Currie, who plays a scientist being blackmailed by the Reds, had a foreign accent. I explained that was because he was supposed to be from Eastern Europe.

6. Finally, the chief says that his contract with Columbia for the original story includes two stipulations that we must honor. 1. The Communist agent must never show a sense of humor or a glimmer of compassion. There is a scene of one Red agent smiling that Hoover says must be removed immediately. 2. The chief gets a pair of Rita Hayworth's silk stockings, sent to "J. Elaine Hoover" in a plain brown package to a secret address. And Hoover says that if word about that gets out, some embarrassing photos of you and Dee Green taken after hours on the set of the Three Stooges short "Mummy's Dummies" will surface.

That's all for now.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Awkward Early Talkie Theatre: "The Younger Generation"

Despite its title, Frank Capra's 1929 film "The Younger Generation" is really mainly about an old guy -- Julius Goldfish, a junk dealer from New York City's Lower East Side, played by Denmark's own Jean Hersholt. (A Dane playing a Jew -- Hollywood!)

The Goldfish family -- papa Julius, mama Tilda (Rosa Rosanova), daughter Birdie (Lina Basquette) and son Morris (Ricardo Cortez) -- are living the American dream, only, as Papa might say, it ain't so dreamy. They have moved on up, moved on up, to the Upper East Side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi because Morris, inheriting Papa's junk business, has become a fancy-schmancy antiques dealer and the family has moved in with him.

Based on a story by Fannie Hurst, who also gave us "Imitation of Life" and "Back Street," "The Younger Generation" has its own kind of Hurstian family heartache -- Morris dominates his family and orders them to assimilate or else! This means Papa has to dress for dinner and bathe a little more regularly than he's used to. Mama loves her new life, but Papa finds himself schmoozing with the delivery men because it reminds him of his old, simpler life.

Little by little, in fact, Papa's heritage is being taken away. Morris becomes the family's alpha male, forbidding his sister to see the struggling musician she's loved for years. Then Morris makes an announcement -- he's changed his surname to Fish. (Here we see a little jab at rival producer Sam Goldwyn, aka Sam Goldfish.) Papa and Birdie commiserate:


BOOM

And still there's more! Morris ostracizes Birdie and makes his parents think that Birdie has deserted them. As a result, Papa wastes away, a prisoner on Fifth Avenue:


But WE know differently -- that Birdie has married her musician, who's in jail for a jewel robbery, and they have a daughter:


By the time Papa finds out the truth, he has faced the final indignity -- he has become an object of embarrassment to his meshugenah son:


"The Younger Generation" is a part-talkie, and the transitions between silent and talking sequences are a little bumpy. But director Frank Capra is already demonstrating his skill in mixing heart and humor, and in peppering "The Younger Generation" with the same salt-of-the-earth types that show up in his later films. And the ending is a killer -- Morris, left alone after everyone has moved out, covers himself in Mama's shawl and suddenly looks much older in front of his massive fireplace.


Here are the complete credits.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

The "Seven Miles from Alcatraz" Guide to Fighting Nazis

You never know when Nazis might make a comeback, so we turn to the 1942 film "Seven Miles From Alcatraz" for advice on what to do when goose steppers appear on your doorstep.

Greetings, everyone! My name is Champ. I am an escaped
prisoner and Nazi-fighting expert extraordinaire.
I also have a yen for yachting attire. 

My story begins at Alcatraz, where my friend Jimbo and
I are sitting out World War II -- OR SO WE THOUGHT!


Our troubles started when we busted out of Alcatraz one night.
The movie's budget isn't big enough to show you how we
actually did it.

All you get to see is the packing crate we hid under
to make our escape. As as inside joke, they put the name
of the producer on the crate. That's why the prop guys had
so much fun shooting holes in it.

We ended up at a lighthouse that was SEVEN MILES
FROM ALCATRAZ. Here we found the captain, his
daughter Anne and comic sidekick Stormy. aka the voice of Jiminy
Cricket. We punched him out because "Pinocchio" made us cry.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, several Nazis were getting
ready to head our way and rendezvous with a German sub. 

I started warming up for the big fight the way I used
to with Jimbo back on the Rock.

Once the Nazis arrived, the other folks didn't quite know
how to fight them.

"Go away or I'll sing 'When You Wish Upon a Star"!"




"Go away or I'll throw myself off the top of the lighthouse!"




"Go away or I'll kiss this girder!"



Things were getting weird. And when one of the Nazis
unplugged the radio because he didn't like "Fibber McGee
and Molly," well, that was the last straw.

It was time for some Badly Choreographed Fighting...


... and for me to say witty things like, "Watch that first
step, Adolf! It's a lulu!"

Then it was all over. The Nazis were captured and Anne
said she'd wait for me to get out of prison. She's not
quite as cute as Jimbo, but she'll do.

And yet, it seems the last laugh goes to our Nazi friend. He
escaped, hid out in Hollywood and re-emerged in the 1960s
as the beloved Sgt. Schultz on TV's "Hogan's Heroes"!

So stay vigilant, America, and remember -- today's TV star
might become tomorrow's Nazi. Lookin' at you, Charlie Sheen!