Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Doggie and Death

We're going to break the usual jovial mood here at Shades of Gray with this very excellent comic strip by Jenny Jinya.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

'Treasure Blues' is lacking

Treasure Blues (1935)
Starring: Patsy Kelly, Thelma Todd, and Arthur Housman
Director: James Parrott
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Patsy (Kelly) inherits a diving suit and a map, so she takes Thelma (Todd) and a drunken sea captain-turned-plumber (Housman) onto the high seas to retrieve a sunken treasure.

"Treasure Blues" is one of weaker Thelma Todd/Patsy Kelly comedies. It's unfocused, not very funny, and, to make matters worse, it extends its good parts to the point where they become bad. This film is so weak that I thought "that's stupid" at some parts that had the live actors behave like they were in a cartoon universe--and I usually LOVE that sort of absurdist humor.

Unfortunately, as cartoonish action is employed in this film, it merely ruins what was up to that point a cute and fairly effective way to make it look like the characters were on the ocean floor--and this was after director James Parrott showed us, yet again, that he'd never seen a gag he couldn't drag out to the point where it went from amusing to lame.

The Four rating I'm giving this film may be a little on the generous side, but the cast members all perform admirably, especially given what they're working with. Todd is amusing, Kelly is charming (which is a rarity, since her onscreen persona in most of these pictures is like nails being dragged across a chalkboard), and Housman is amusing as his usual charicature of a drunk. It's a shame their efforts are taking place within such a poorly made film.

"Treasure Blues" is included with all of the films Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly made together in a single three-DVD collection.

Friday, October 18, 2019

'The Haunted House' is a treat full of tricks

The Haunted House (1921)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, and Mark Hamilton
Directors: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

On the run from the law, a bank teller (Keaton) who has been wrongfully accused of counterfeiting and trying to rob his place of employment, takes refuge in a house seemingly haunted by ghosts and demons.

"The Haunted House" is fun, funny, but most of all, good-natured and cute. Sure, it's the story of crooks (led by the towering Joe Roberts) who are using a small-town bank to exchange their counterfiet dollars for real ones; and sure, an innocent, if mishap-prone, bank teller (Buster Keaton) ends up blamed for their crimes; and, yeah, Roberts and his gang end up kidnapping the bank president's daughter (Virginia Fox)... but, despite all of that, this movie has a jovial air about it that makes it breeze by while you're watching. You even forget how fundamentally silly it is that Keaton, an adult, is scared and confused by men in devil and skeleton costumes, or by people wearing sheets pretending to be ghosts. (And as is my habit when reviewing these short films, I'm not going to go into too man details about the jokes and gags, because that would ruin the film for you. It's established up front that the hauntings and demonic infestations are

High points of the film include a series of gags involving paper currency, glue, and a botched bank robbery; Keaton's character first reacting with fear to the fake hauntings and then with marked sarcasm once he discovers it's just a bunch of guys in costumes; Keaton's interactions with the "devil" in the house; and Keaton's adventures in the Afterlife following a last-minute dramatic twist. There are also some really funny slapstick bits involving a trick staircase, and a very clever--and surprisinglyspecial effects sequence that is actually the film's single truly unnerving moment. (It's also completely out of place with everything else in the picture, but I suspect it was just too good a concept to not use.)

Aside from the out-of-place special effects gag (which is still excellent, just out of place), the only other real complaint I can mount about the film is that Virginia Fox's character needed a little more screen time and development. What we get is a very perfunctory "this is our damsel in distress" and not much else, and the film would have benefitted greatly if just a little more time had been devoted to her. These weaknesses still result in me rating the film a very high Eight on my Ten-star scale rather than a Nine.

But just don't take my word for how fun "The Haunted House" is. I've embedded it below, via YouTube, for your viewing pleasure!

Trivia: Buster Keaton liked the stair gags so much that he developed further routines and included a similar idea in "The Electric House" (1922).

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Halloween Costume Ideas!

Everyone's looking for good costume ideas this time of year, so we're sharing what some people will be wearing to the Shades of Gray Halloween Party this year. Maybe you'll be inspired!

Dusty Anderson says the classics are always "in", so she's dressing up like a black cat.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are going as a loving Puritan couple.

Meanwhile, Myrna Loy's going as Perry Mason.

Helen Bennett says she's going as a mobile hot-spot.

Finally, Thelma Todd will be the Pearl in the Oyster. If we weren't having the shindig at her place, this costume wouldn't be practical.

This year's party is sponsored in part by the Associated Shades of Hades.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Picture Perfect Vampirella

We've got a double-dose of Vampirella portraits to celebrate that we're halfway to Halloween!

First, here she is posing with Yorik. She knew him... in what sense, we don't know, and we're too afraid to ask.

By Paul Abrams

And here she is, once again, proving that any reports of her death are greatly exaggerated.

By SanJulian

Monday, October 14, 2019

Musical Monday: The Ghost of Stephen Foster

It's another October Monday, and here's another creepy cartoon tune to help you find the Halloween Spirit. This one is a music video that's a homage to early animated shorts from the Fleisher Studio.

The Ghost of Stephen Foster (1999)
Lead Animators/Directors:Raymond Persi and Matthew Nastuk
Music: Squirrel Nut Zippers (end credits music by Hack and Slash)
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Sunday, October 13, 2019

It's a sweet time on the Silvery Moon

From the studio that introduced the world to Felix the Cat comes a tale of sweet, sweet adventure...

Silvery Moon  (aka "Candy Town") (1933)
Starring: Unknown (but sounds like Mae Questel or Bonnie Poe)
Directors: Mannie Davis and John Foster
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A pair of cats are magically teleported to the Moon where they find a realm inhabited by friendly creatures where everything is edible and made from candy and ice cream!

"Silvery Moon" (or "Candy Town" as it is more widely known) is a cute, nonsensical, and nearly plotless cartoon. I kept expecting it to take a dark turn--as I am used to in the Betty Boop cartoons, which this both looks and sounds like, but none ever came. Instead, it remained goofy and as sweet as the candy in the world that cats are transported to.

I assume the target audience for this film in the 1930s was little kids, and I think it might be something they'd get a kick out of even today. However, it's fast-moving enough, and just surreal  enough that adults watching it with them will at least be mildly entertained. It could have benefitted immensely from being in color, however.)

You can see if I'm right or wrong in my estimation, right here in this very post since I've embedded the film below, via YouTube.

(With Halloween approaching, you should probably be thinking about candy, too. Are you ready for the onslaught of trick-or-treaters?)

Friday, October 11, 2019

'The Misses Stooge' has a few mild laughs

The Misses Stooge (1935)
Starring: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, Herman Bing, Rafael Storm, and Esther Howard
Director: James Parrott
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Patsy and Thelma (Kelly and Todd) are hired by a magician (Bing), with Patsy being his on-stage assistant and Thelma being his plant in the audience, for a private performance at a high society party

It's commonly stated that the Thelma Todd-starring series of comedies was one of producer's Hal Roach's attempts to recreate the commercial success of the Laurel & Hardy films with a female comedy team. Todd fronted the longest-running of these efforts, and out of the 19 I've watched of them so far, this is first one where I clearly saw the spectre that the ladies and their box office receipts were being measured against; there are several lines spoken by Thelma Todd in this film that sounded exactly like ones that would have been uttered by Oliver Hardy, and Patsy Kelly's distressed fidgeting in a couple of scenes put me in mind of Stan Laurel. Some of the close-ups of Todd making an exasperated face while looking into the camera in some of the other Todd/Kelly pairings have previously reminded me of the reaction close-up shots of Hardy to Laurel's antics in their films, but nothing has felt as Laurel & Hardy-esque as this "The Misses Stooge".

But speaking of close-ups of Todd making exasperated faces, those are, sadly, where she is at her funniest in this picture. I think this may be the first film where I've felt like she was "phoning it in". While there's a set-up that plays to her strengths in portraying elegant women with a sophisticated air or snobbish attitude about them, little ultimately comes of it. She really has very little to do in this film, and, although this has been the case in other pieces, it's always seemed like she was trying to make the most of that very little, that does not seem to be the case here. Except for some reaction shots; those are comedy gold.

While Todd doesn't have much to do in this film, that is not the case with Patsy Kelly. Kelly not only gets to do some funny gags, she also gets to be the more competent of the duo, for the first time in any of the films I've seen in this series. Although she is clearly doing a Stan Laurel impersonation to Todd's Oliver Hardy, her character is clearly a skilled vaudevillian who is trying to support her friend Thelma who has good looks and a high opinion of herself that is not backed up by skill or talent. It's a nice switch from several previous films where it seems like it's Todd carrying her dimwitted friend. Kelly is actually so good in this film that I ended up awarding the film Five Stars as opposed to the Four Stars I almost gave it... because, in the final analysis, "The Misses Stooge" is just not a very good film.

The problem is one that is common to this series: The script isn't very good. While there are strong ideas here, the execution is haphazard and unfocused, and the jokes just aren't all that funny. The cast, aside from Thelma Todd, all try their mightiest to make the best of the weak material, but they can't overcome the unfulfilled potential (a high society setting where no pretentiousness is brought low), inconsistent tone (the magic show moves randomly from actual magic to standard illusions), and that, once again, we've got a story that doesn't get resolved so much as it just ends (admittedly with a very literal bang, but it's still an unsatisfactory one).

Aside from Kelly's strong performance, "The Misses Stooge" is at its best during a sequence when Thelma Todd is floating away like a balloon after the magician loses control of a magic trick, with Patsy chasing after her; and during an ongoing gag about the guest of honor at the party (played by Rafael Storm) being so horny for Thelma, and so stupid that he threatens to ruin the magic show. This "best" is enough to keep you entertained as you watch the film unfold, but only just.

"The Misses Stooge" is included with all of the films Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly made together in a single three-DVD collection.

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