Thursday, November 15, 2018

A hit that cemented several Hollywood careers

Buck Privates (1941)
Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Nat Pendleton, Jane Frazee, Lee Bowman, Alan Curtis, and the Andrew Sisters
Director: Arthur Lubin
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

A pair of conmen (Abbott and Costello) accidentially join the Army while trying to avoid the police. As if that wasn't bad enough, the cop they were trying to avoid (Pendleton) turns out to be their drill sergeant.

"Buck Privates" is one of those movies that became far more important than anyone could ever have imagined when they were making it. It was a low-budget production that was just another musical comedy that, at best, would continue to grow the comedy team of Abbott & Costello as box office draws. Instead, it became the most profitable film that Universal Pictures had made up to that point, further solidified the Andrews Sisters as pop-music shaping superstars, and launched Abbott & Costello onto their path to comedic cinematic legends.

The film itself follows a fairly standard storyline of tracking army recruits as their training helps them overcome their character flaws and learn to work with people they might dispise outside of military life. The presence of members of a WAC-precusor unit at the training camp allows for a romantic subplot, with a trio of attractive and talented actors (Jane Frazee, Lee Bowman, and Alan Curtis) carrying that storyline in between musical numbers featuring the Andrew Sisters (and even one by Lou Costello).

While some of the humor and social attitudes in the film are a bit archaic, and Abbott & Costello went onto be even funnier in future movies, "Buck Privates" is a touchstone of American culture that's still hugely entertaining to watch. While the copious stock footage used to create the illusion that the actors aren't on a movie ranch or Universal Studios sound stage gets a bit tiresome durng the film's third act, everything about this film is well-executed... and it's easy to see why so many careers sky-rocketed afterwards and why some of the songs are even well-known to this day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Beauty and the Bomb: Sally McCloskey

During the 1950s, the people of Las Vegas, Nevada, decided to unite the two things the area was famous for: Atom bomb tests and showgirls. Casinos would host parties where people could watch the mushroom clouds rise, at which they'd also crown beauty queens that were usually picked from among their staff, and North Las Vegas even held a beauty competition where they crowned a Miss A-Bomb.

One of the more curious "Beauty and the Bomb" events involve the day photographer Donald English shot pictures of ballet dancer Sally McCloskey performing an interpretative dance with a mushroom cloud in sky above the test grounds.

For some context and information about the photo shoot, click here. Also, here's a copy of a feature some of the pictures were used in (click to enlarge and read the text):

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

In Memory of Stan Lee

Comic book creative and editorial giant Stan Lee passed away Monday, November 12, 2018, at the age of 95. Here's a small gallery of artwork celebrating him.

By Wee Chong
By John Romita

By Chris Giarusso
By Russ Heath

 By Colleen Doran

By Mike Weringo & Sean Parsons

By Charles Holbert, Jr.
By Jeffery A. Dobberpuhl

Monday, November 12, 2018

Musical Monday: Meet Folkline

Some of you may be aware that I used to make my living as a writer, game designer, and editor. Back then, many of my best ideas would pop into my head while listening to a song or piece of music, and the idea would often have little or nothing to do with what inspired it.

One such idea was never actually used in anything that was published but instead formed a cornerstone of a role-playing game campaign that I ran for 15 years. It was inspired by the song "Iko-Iko" (as recorded by Cindy Lauper)  and that first spark of an idea grew into one of the grandest and most expansive sagas I ever dreamed up.

But because that grand saga is still very near and dear to my heart, so is the song "Iko-Iko." I listen to it when I want to lift my spirits and bring that half-told saga to mind... and I love finding new versions of it (or older versions I'd not encountered before).
I recently came across this unusual version by Russian folk-rock trio Folkline. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sherlock Sunday: Holmes Faces Death

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Arthur Margetson, Hillary Brooke, and Dennis Hoey
Director: Roy William Neill
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) is summoned to the country by his friend Dr. Watson (Bruce) to discover the secrets behind a series of murders at a convalesce home for injured military officers.

The fourth installment of Universal Pictures' "modern day" adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a loose adaptation of Doyle's story "The Musgrave Ritual." It's an effective update of the tale, and it's perhaps the most thrilling of the Universal Holmes I've seem so far. It's certainly the darkest, as it continues to deal with the contemporary (for when the film was made) issues of World War 2. This time, it deals with homefront issues, such as caring for soldiers who return from battle not just with physical injuries but mental damage as well. It's one aspect of the film that gives it staying-power and that makes it just as relevant today as six decades ago.

The film is especially effective in the way it creates the ending. It gives viewers a real sense that Holmes has outsmarted himself for once and that the clever trap he lays to get the otherwise untouchable killer to reveal himself turns into a death trap for Holmes himself. It's a very well-done twist to the story, and twice-welcomed due to the fact that Holmes' bait and trap are so cliched that I feared for what was going to come next when it showed up in the film.

Also worth noting is that the idiotic hairstyle that Holmes sported in the first few movies in this series is gone. The treatment of Watson and other characters is also notably more respectful by Holmes in this film than in several other entries in the picture. Yes, he puts Lestrade down when he's being a bonehead, but he shows more respect for Watson than is average for the series and he doesn't seem like he's constantly trying to prove how superior he is to everyone around him.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Love Quarterly

Bessie Love was born Jaunita Horton in 1898. As a teenager, she moved with her parents to Hollywood where director DW Griffith provided her with her first acting job (a small part in "Intolerance" (1916) and also provided her stage name. She was popular almost immediately with movie-goers, and she dropped out of High School to pursue a career in acting full-time.

Love was a hugely popular Hollywood star during the silent era, although most of her films are lost today. Due to her slight frame and small stature, she spent 1920s mostly playing characters younger than her actual age. Although she initially made a successful transition to the Talkies, her film career was stalling as she entered her reached her mid-30s (during the 1930s). So she left the United States for England where she found success on the stage.

Every quarter, we'll feature some photos and trivia about this early Hollywood Glamor Girl. So, until the Spring, we hope you'll stay warm... although maybe in a slightly more efficient way than Bessie did.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Picture Perfect Special: Jim Steranko

Artist/writer/comics historian/magician Jim Steranko turns 80 years old today! While his body of work in comics is slight and mostly took place in the mid-1960s, it had a huge impact and continues to do so to the present. (Anyone who wants to be a comics artist MUST study Steranko's work on "Captain America", "Strange Tales", and "Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD." It is some of the best comic book art every created.)

In celebration of Steranko's birthday, here's a sampling of his art.