Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Picture Perfect Wednesday: It's June

June Clyde was born into a Vaudevillian family, and she made her stage debut at the age of 8 in 1917, singing and dancing her way into the hearts of audiences. She continued performing in shows and musicals throughout her child-  and young adulthood.

Having grown into an attractive and leggy blonde--not to mention a very talented dancer and songstress, Clyde signed a film contract with RKO in 1929. After a few modestly successful musicals, RKO chose not to renew Clyde's contract, and by 1932 she was on her own and competing for roles against a hoard of other pretty and talented blondes.

By the mid-1930s, Clyde had found a niche playing female leads in low-budget comedies and mysteries from Hollywood's Poverty Row Studios. She split her career between the screen and the stage, however , and through the late 1930s and into the 1950s, Clyde appeared in a variety of theatre productions in London's West End.

Clyde retired from acting in 1957, and she retired to her Florida with husband Thornton Freeland (himself a retired film director and writer). She passed away on October 1, 1987, at the age of 77.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

'Little Giant' is a departure from A&C norm

Little Giant (1946)
Starring: Lou Costello, Bud Abbott, Jacqueline deWit, Elena Verdugo, George Cleveland, Mary Gordon, and Pierre Watkins
Director: William A. Seiter
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Kindhearted, but oh-so-dumb, Benny Miller (Costello) sets out to become a great salesman after completing a correspondence course.

"Little Giant" is very different than any of the dozen or so other films I've seen starring Abbott & Costello. Both headliners are, generally speaking, playing their usual characters (Abbott is sleazy and scheming, while Costello is guileless and honest to a fault), but with more intensity. They are also not allies against a common enemy; here, Abbott plays the part of a full-on villain, and the hapless Costello becomes one of his targets.

According to various commentators, this movie is a departure from the usual  Abbott & Costello model of including numerous Vaudeville-inspired routines either because the two stars wanted to do something different and stretch themselves, or because they were in the middle of an argument and they didn't speak except when on-set. Whatever the reason, there's a different vibe in the picture that extends well beyond the absence of the expected comedy routines. (There is still a single "traditional" routine in it, though.)

"Little Giant" sees Bud Abbott playing two different roles--a pair of identical cousins who are both sales mangers in the Hercules Vacuum Company. One is a crook who is skimming from the company and the other is a hard-working, honest man who wants to see his staff and company do as well as it can. Both have interactions with Costello's character, and each have a hand in his fate as a salesman to some degree. It's interesting to watch Abbott play an out-and-out bad guy with no redeeming qualities whatsoever--no matter how big a sleazebag he's been in other movies, at least he was a kinda-sorta a friend to Costello's character, even if it was an exploitive and abusive one. And, on the flipside, he also gets to play a nice, honorable character for once; the "good cousin" at Hercules Vaccum Company is a thoroughly professional manager who holds himself and his people to account and is one of the more likable characters in the film.

Meanwhile, Lou Costello is playing the typical babe-the-woods character, but without the usual bullying/guiding force of an Abbott-type character on his side, he comes across as even more hapless and hopeless than ever. I almost felt guilty laughing at his antics and pratfalls, and I felt deeply sorry for him when he became an object of mockery by his fellow sales associates. On the other hand, it was even more satisfying than ever before to watch him emerge victorious as a direct result of their mistreatment... and it was even more heartbreaking that ever to watch the villain get the upper-hand again and send poor Benny Miller slinking back to his hometown with his spirit completely broken. (In fact, One of the saddest scenes I've ever seen in a comedy happens toward the end of the film.)

Things look so dark toward the end of this film that when the happy ending does manifest, it felt a little forced. Although it follows perfectly logically from the events of the film (with the exception that one of the supporting characters must have grown a spine off-camera to bring it about), it still feels tacked on because of the emotional whiplash the audience is subjected to in the space of a few short minutes. Maybe if there had been some stronger hint of the trigger that sets everything onto a path toward a just end for the film's characters the ending would have felt a little more motivated; I can't really make up my mind on that count.

.All in all, though, this unusual Abbott & Costello film is well worth a viewing for those who enjoy their regular fair, as well as those who enjoy a well-made comedy. "Little Giant" is a fun story that's  performed by a talented cast. It's one of the eight movies included in The Best of Abbott & Costello Volume 2.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

'Two-Gun Gussie' is fun, but not remarkable

Two-Gun Gussie (1918)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, William Blaisedell, Charles Stevenson, Harry Pollard, and Bebe Daniels
Director: Al Goulding
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A brutish trouble-maker (Blaisedell) swaps his photo in a police alert for that of a mild-mannered piano-player at the local saloon (Lloyd). When everyone starts treating the piano-man like a desperado, he becomes so convinced of his toughness that he eventually goes toe-to-toe with the man whose reputation was pinned on him.

"Two-Gun Gussie" is a fast-paced spoof of westerns that has very little plot to get in the way of the jokes... and what there is of a plot doesn't make a whole lot sense and feels forced. Since this film is only 10 minutes long that hardly matters though. This is one where you should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The film is at its best during the kinda-sorta shoot-out between Harold and bartender 'Snub' Pollard, although Harold trying to intimidate the tough guy like he does the townspeople will also inspire a chuckle or two. The most disappointing aspect of the film is that Bebe Daniels is almost totally wasted in the role of a Salvation Army fund-raiser, with very little to do but be the object of a ridiculous insta-romance between herself and the main character. (One thing though--if there was ever any question that it's her playing Dorothy in the "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (1910) , this film should put that to rest; the panicked genstures she makes here are exactly like those she made as a young child actress.)

I've made it easy for you to enjoy this fun little film; it's embedded in its entirety below, via YouTube. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Milla Jovovich Quarterly

They say that strange women laying around in ponds and distributing swords may not be a good basis for a government... but how about we try Millas sitting around in parks and distributing swords?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

'One Track Minds' is off the tracks

One Track Minds (1933)
Starring: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, Lucien Prival, George McFarland, Billy Gilbert, and Jack Rube
Director: Gus Meins
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

While traveling by train to California for a screen test, Thelma (Todd) finds herself in the same train car as the pompous film director (Prival) who will decide her future movie career.

"One Track Minds" was the last film that Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts made together, and I wish I could say their team-up ended on a high note. It did not. Pitts' contract with the Hal Roach Studio was up, and she was ready to move onto other things... and I think that maybe this film was a casualty of a desire to get one last contribution from the Todd/Pitts team as ZaSu was on her way out the door.

I say this because this is not so much a film as a series of gags thrown together with train travel as a kinda-sorta uniting theme. Not a whole lot of effort appears to have been put into developing any sort of coherent storyline, nor even many of the jokes themselves.

The though-line of the film is mockery of Hollywood's celebrity culture, with ambitions, dream-filled starlets and arrogant, self-absorbed movie directors, but the film meanders through several rail-traveling "slice-of-life" scenes involving Pitt's child or little brother--it's never established what their relationship is--and Pitt and Todd's interaction with various other kooky people in the train. The end result is that this feels more like a collection of vaguely related sketches than a coherent movie, a feeling that's underscored by the fact the film doesn't have an ending; it just ends, with none of its plot threads resolved, or even developed, to any degree whatsoever.

It's a shame the film isn't more coherent and the jokes aren't better developed, because the cast are all doing their absolute best with what they have to work with. The greatest shame, though, might be that because the film is so unfocused, Pitts and Todd are almost crowded out of their own movie. Lucien Prival (as the stuck-on-himself, flamboyant film director), Billy Gilbert (as the conductor who has to deal with the nuts on his train) and Jack Rube (as a deaf beekeeper who is traveling in the passenger car with his bees) all have more interesting parts than the two stars. In fact, Todd has virtually nothing to do in the picture.

While this was the last film Todd and Pitts made together, it won't be the last of their pairings I'll be covering as the Year of the Hot Toddy continues. I jumped to the end of the cycle, because I've been somewhat disappointed in their quality. Thelma Todd made some excellent shorts with Charley Chase, but only one where she was teamed with Pitts was even close to as good. I hoped that by the end whatever wasn't clicking had clicked... but "One Track Minds" has bigger problems than any of the previous Todd/Pitts films (Although I also felt they were crowded out of their own picture in their first official teaming in "Catch-As-Catch-Can", so maybe this was a common thing?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Picture Perfect Wednesday: It's June!

June Brewster made her film debut in 1932, at the age of 19. After a series of uncredited roles and unremarkable bit parts, she took a step toward movie fame as a co-star of the RKO's "The Blonde and the Redhead" series of short films.

During 1933 and 1934, Brewster was at her busiest. She led five installments of "The Blonde and the Redhead," as well as small parts of varying importance in seven other films. However, as 1935 dawned, her career sputtered and stalled, even before it had fully launched.

Brewster appeared in nine films between 1935 and 1938, with each part being smaller than the one before. She ended her short film career as it began, with a couple unremarkable, uncredited roles.

Brewster married vice-cop-turned-organized-crime-figure-and-casino-mogul Guy McAfee in 1936. The couple relocated to Nevada in 1939 where McAfee became one of the founding fathers of the Las Vegas gambling mecca that we know today. Brewster and McAfee divorced in 1941, but she remained a resident of Las Vegas until her death on August 2, 1995.

Monday, June 10, 2019

It's Vampire Weekend on a Musical Monday

Is this confusing? Starting the week with Vampire Weekend? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, this Grammy Award winning band (2014, Best Alternative Music Album for "Modern Vampires of the City") will get your week started right.

Below, is the video for "This Life" off their latest album, "Father of the Bride". Vampire Weekend is currently touring the U.S. in support of this new release, proving that alternative rock is alive and well in 2019 (or possibly undead).

Sunday, June 9, 2019

'Cops': Filmed on location in Crazytown!

Cops (1922)
Starring: Buster Keaton
Directors: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Through a series of missteps and misunderstandings, a young man (Keaton) trying to win his girlfriend's hand in marriage ends up being chased by the city's entire police force.

There are three kinds of people who get in trouble with the police: The criminal, the stupid, and the unlucky. In the space of this film's 18-minute running time, Buster Keaton character is every one of those. He steals some money (from someone who just happens to be the police commissioner), he is conned into buying property from someone who doesn't actually own it (but some of it belongs to a police officer), and he inadvertently becomes the center and perpetrator of a terrorist attack on a police parade.

"Cops" is a little slow in the wind-up (although it opens strong with an excellent site gag that plays with audience expectations given the title), but once it really gets going it's a one long, hilarious chase scene.

Like almost every Keaton short I've written about in this space, I feel like I can't go into too much detail without ruining the amazement you'll feel the first time watching the events unfold  I will say, though, that the stunt involving Keaton balancing on a ladder atop a fence while cops on both sides are trying to get at him is worth sitting through the film almost all by itself.

Above, you can see that I only listed one star of this film. While Joe Roberts (as a cop from whom Keaton's character steals money) Virginia Fox (the girl he is trying to impress), and Steve Murphy (as a con man who rips him off) all play pivotal characters in the plot, Buster Keaton is the only true star of this picture. He owns this film from the first moment though the very last frame (even if only his hat appears in it).

If you like rambunctious comedies, whether you admire cops or are more likely to walk around saying "fuck the police", I think this is a film you'll enjoy the heck out of. I've embedded the film below, so you can watch it right here, right now. It may well be the funniest 18 minutes of your day!

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