Saturday, July 14, 2018

'High-Toned' is pretty low-brow

High Toned (aka "High Tones") (1930)
Starring: Ford Washington Lee and John William Sublett (Buck & Bubbles)
Director: Paul Powell
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

The Wildcat (Sublett) returns home after serving in World War I  to find his job and his girl have been taken by a monacle-wearing immigrant from the West Indies.

Back in their day, Buck & Bubbles were a hugely successful black song-and-dance/comedy duo, and one half of it, John William Sublett, is credited with inventing a particular style of tap-dancing and being someone Fred Astaire sought out for dance lessons. However, their talents aren't well represented in this film, which, according to marketing materials from the time, is one of six adaptations of Hugh Wiley short stories about an African American who was in the US Army during WWI. There's almost no dancing in the film--just a single brief bit of softshoe shuffle--and the jokes are minimal and mostly unfunny. In fact, this short film has the length, pacing, and overall feel of a substandard sit-com from the 1980s. I suppose in that sense it was ahead of its time, but unless you're a fan of substandard sit-coms or Race Films, there might not be a whole lot to interest

One thing to be aware of if your one of this breed of 21st humans who are outraged (OUTRAGED!) by anything offensive or racist, this is a film you want to stay away from as it contains just about every negative stereotype about blacks that you would find in a film from this period. Even if you do decide to brave it, you might want to just stop the DVD player as the climax is wrapping up. While I found the way the film used the "blacks are superstitious and cowardly black people" stereotype interesting--native American blacks use it against the Haitian interloper--it might be the thing that will cause you to have a nervous breakdown.

"High Toned" is one of six short films included on "Ultra-Rare Pre-Code Comedies, Volume  How Comedies Are Born".

Friday, July 13, 2018

Fantastic Friday the Thirteenth!

Can even the Fantastic Four withstand the sinister forces at work on Friday the Thirteenth? Not if Doctor Doom has anything to say about it!

By Caudio Castellini

But... in answer to the question... OF COURSE they can withstand the sinister of forces of Friday the Thirteenth! They're the Fantastic Four! They get knocked down, but they get right back up again!

They are the once and future First Family of Comics! They are the Fantastic Four!

By George Perez

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Monday, July 9, 2018

'Smart Blonde' is a wise viewing choice

Smart Blonde (1937)
Starring: Glenda Farrell. Barton MacLane, Addison Richards, Tom Kennedy, Jane Wyman, Winifred Shaw,
Director: Frank McDonald
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Newspaper reporter Torchy Blane (Farrell) and her boyfriend, Homicide Squad Lt. Steve McBride (McLane), unravel the mysteries surrounding the murder of an out-of-town investor poised to buy the businesses of Fitz Mularky (Richards).

"Smart Blonde" is a breezy mystery flick with just the right amount of suspects and story for its brief one-hour running time. Another strong element of the film is that the romantic relationship between Torchy and Steve is long-established before the beginning of this story, which is a nice change of pace. Too often, these films shoe-horn an insta-romance into the picture, but here the writers were smart enough to avoid that contrivance.

(Of course, to some degree, the source material can be thanked for that. In the story this film was adapted from, Torchy is a man who is best friends with MacBride.)

Aside from the well-cast, well-written central characters, the supporting cast is made up of similarly charming actors playing interesting characters. Stand-outs are Tom Kennedy, as Steve's small-brained, big hearted chauffeur, and Jane Wyman, a a chatty hat-check girl.

If you like 1930s mystery films that throw a "battle of the sexes" into the mix, I think you'll find "Smart Blonde" right up your alley... and a refreshing change in several ways.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Fantastic Friday!

In August, Marvel's First Family returns to print. I'm going to be posting weekly art selections in anticipation of the arrival of what I hope will be great relaunch of what have been my favorite Marvel characters since I first encountered them as a kid.

By Ron Lim
By Alan Davis & Juan Torres

By Hermes Manuel Alejandro Quevedo

Thursday, July 5, 2018

'Flirting in the Park' is a weak start

Flirting in the Park (1933)
Starring: June Brewster, Carol Tevis, Grady Sutton, Eddie Nugent, Brooks Benedict, and Donald Haines
Director: George Stevens
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Two office ladies (Brewster and Tevis) spend a Saturday afternoon trying to one-up each other while on dates in the park.

"Flirting in the Park" was the first in a string of short films starring June Brewster, Carol Tevis, and Grady Sutton, all of which have been collected on a two-volume DVD series titled "Blondes and Redheads." When I first started watching and reviewing these films, I wondered why the Alpha Video releases didn't present them in order, but instead led off with films from the later period of the series.
Now that I've watched "Flirting in the Park", I understand why.

While "Flirting in the Park" starts out with some nice workplace comedy, not to mention a look into office life nearly a century ago, the viewing experience quickly sours. It's great to dislike the villainous manager who sexually harasses June (played by June Brewster) and then forces her to work Saturday afternoon when the rest of the staff gets to leave early, but it's not great when the characters we're supposed to like turn out to be petty, mean, and shallower than parts of the lake they go boating on. If this had been the first film in the series I'd seen, I don't know if I'd bothered with any others, until the day where my pile of unwatched DVDs was almsot empty. (A day that will likely never come because I have YEARS of backlog to go through.)

Much can be forgiven for characters who are funny, and that's the biggest problem here: There's very little that's funny here, even in the office where the film was at its most amusing. The only character here who has any charm to it is the one portrayed by Carol Tevis. She's socially awkward, but wants to be a guy magnet like her friend June... or at least be SEEN as such by June (even after June steals back the date that Carol stole from her early in the film). Carol also has the only really funny bit during the later part of the movie, a gag revolving around her showing June how good she is at flirting. (I don't want to give anymore details, because I don't want to ruin the only truly good part of this film.)

It's a shame that this otherwise good cast is stuck playing such unpleasant, unlikable characters. This goes double for June Brewster, and, despite my distaste for the character she was playing, I found myself thinking it was a shame she was more more successful in her career. (After struggling along in mostly  minor and supporting roles from between 1932 and 1938, she gave up on acting and married a vice cop turned gaming mogul... who went onto become a founding figure of modern day Las Vegas. The parts she played in this film series may well be the biggest she ever had.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Waiting for the fireworks to begin!

If you're going set off your own fireworks, or go to a show put on by an organization, I hope there's better safety practices than Piper Laurie is instituting for her Night of Boom and Celebration.