Monday, August 19, 2019

Musical Monday: Jazz Fever

It's the fever you get from too much Jazz, and Rachel Bloom and Seth Green are here to educate us about it through song.

Jazz Fever (2013)
Starring: Rachel Bloom, Seth Green, and John Milhiser
Director: Daniel Gregor
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Friday, August 16, 2019

'Babes in the Goods' doesn't quite deliver

Babes in the Goods (1934)
Starring: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, Arthur Housman, and Jack Barty
Director: Gus Meins
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A pair of sales clerks (Todd and Kelly) are pressed into service by their boss (Barty) to demonstrate home appliances in the department store's display window and ordered to keep doing it until all spectators are gone. Unfortunately for them, they gain the adoring attention of a drunk (Housman) who refuses to leave...

"Babes in the Goods" is another somewhat disappointing entry in the Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly series of short-form comedies. It has a nice idea at its core--shop-workers getting locked in a window display that's set up like rooms in a house--but what it does with that idea just isn't very funny. Todd and Kelly are as good as they've ever been--with Kelly being better, because she is a little more restrained here than she has been in previous films--but they can only do so much with the material they were given to work with. It's really a shame, because they're actually the main focus of the picture, unlike in some of these shorts where there's so much going on that Todd and Kelly (or Pitts, in those where she was the co-star) are crowded out of their own story.

The film is at its funniest when Arthur Housman is doing his drunk routine, especially when reacting to poor Thelma and Patsy in the window (with the bit where he sees Thelma undress in silhouette and then interact with a mannequin being the peak).
"Babes in the Goods" is one of the short films included in the Complete Hal Roach Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly DVD collection.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Ladies of 'Hips, Hips, Horray!'

So many of the publicity photos for the 1934 RKO musical comedy "Hips, Hips Horray!" feature cuties wearing next to nothing that I was surprised to learn that the film revolves around competing cosmetic companies and flavored lipstick.

These photos should REALLY be promoting a film about goofy bellhops at a resort for people looking for "mature fun" and guests whose luggage and/or clothes they lose.

(I wish I could tell you who is who in the pictures, but I see conflicting information as to the identities of the girls on display. If someone wants to take a crack at ID'ing them, drop me an email, or leave a comment.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Most exciting portrayal of space travel ever?

Astronomeous (1928)
Director: Otto Messmer
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

Felix proves the feasibility of space travel and colonization on other planets to the cats of Earth.

The late 1920s was something of a Golden Age for Felix the Cat. Although the character's popularity was starting to wane, many of the cartoons that were released during that period are so over-the-top crazily creative that they are just as fun today as they were 90 - 95 years ago.

But don't just take my word for it... take a few minutes and watch "Astronomeous". I'm certain you'll find plenty of things to chuckle about as the surreal world of Felix the Cat enters the space age, as well as one or two things that give it something of a contemporary feel.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Watch Singapore Sue Sing to the Sailors

Singapore Sue (1932)
Starrnig: Anna Chang, Joe Wong, and Cary Grant
Director: Casey Robinson
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Four sailors looking for fun visit a cabaret in Singapore encounter a singer with a surprising background.

"Singapore Sue" is a ten-minute short film with three so-so songs by once-popular but now-forgotten performers, some weak banter, and not much else. It is, however, still of some interest to film-buffs.

First, this film features Cary Grant in one of his earliest film appearances. It's not a terribly impressive role, and, frankly, the character might be downright annoying if played by someone other than Cary Grant, but it's fascinating to see him this early in his career, playing a part unlike any other I'd seen him in.noteworthy role, and This ten-minute short has three songs, and banter between Grant and Anna Chang (as the title character), and not much else. It is, however, remarkable for the fact that all Asian characters--even the two major parts--are played by Asians rather than White people in make-up.

 Second, the film is somewhat unusual, because the major Chinese characters are portrayed by actual Asians instead of White actors in heavy make-up. This is probably explained by the fact Anna Chang and Joe Wong were popular vaudeville performers, and the film was made as a vehicle to showcase their talents, or to draw their fans to the movie theaters. Wong (who was born in the Philippines, and who's real name was Jose Ocampo Cobarrubias) went onto to have a sideline in acting that stretched through the late 1980s, but Chang does not appear to have had much of a screen career.

Take a few minutes out of your day to see a different Cary Grant than you may be used to, and enjoy the musical stylings of a pair of forgotten performers, right here, on this post, via the embedded video below!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

In Memory of Robin Williams

It's been five years since the world got a little darker, because Robin Williams is no longer in it. Here are some pictures in his memory.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

'Hips, Hips, Horray!' is worth a cheer

Hips, Hips, Horray! (1934)
Starring: Robert Woolsey, Bert Wheeler, Dorothy Lee, Thelma Todd, George Meeker, Phyllis Barry, and Dorothy Granger
Director: Mark Sandrich
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Small-time inventors of a flavored lipstick (Woolsey and Wheeler), on the hunt for love and money, con their way into a partnership with a large cosmetics firm, Maid in America.

"Hips, Hips, Horray!" is one of those early 1930s comedies full of a variety of sexual innuendos, scantily clad women, and jokes and gags that made the censorship boards of the day gasp with outrage, and which will make their 21st century spiritual successors shriek with horror. It's also a film that makes no pretenses about the fact that it's main purpose is to be entertaining and outrageous. It features only the thinnest of plots that, even though it's well-crafted enough to include all the elements of the Three Act structure, never really gives the viewer any doubt that every thing will work out find for our heroes and their love interests, the owner of Maid in America (Thelma Todd), whose firlm is being sabotaged from within, and her employee and confidant (Dorothy Lee, who was essentially was the third member of the W&W team).

Although, like I mentioned, this film's main purpose is to entertain and be outrageous, there's a little more going on here than just antics, as a good portion of the film is devoted to making fun of the chorus-girl filled song-and-dance numbers that were so typical in movies at the time.

The film opens with one such production number that is so over-the-top, and so filled with naked women, concealed only by bath bubbles or cosmetic products strategically placed in the camera shot, that even the most prudish of viewers (then and now) should be able to get a chuckle out of it. Later, in what is arguably the film's greatest sequence, where Wheeler & Lee and Woolsey & Todd, respectively declare their love and lust for each other through song (the catchy tune "Keep Doing What You're Doing") and then start doing a choreographed dance during which they trash an elegant office. The song is pretty standard fare for films of this period--even if, once again, the innuendo button is being mashed firmly and often--but the dance routine is a hilarious, small-scale send-up of those insanely elaborate Busby Berkeley production numbers.

In addition to the musical production number send-ups, "Hips, Hips, Horray!" features a cartoonish sequence where our heroes accidentally end up driving the car that's taking part in a cross-country race to promote Maid in America. It's bit jarring the way the movie suddenly shifts from being a fairly grounded satire confined to corporate offices to a zany racing comedy where cars can get swept up in tornadoes and Kansas and safely deposited in the Rocky Mountains, the material is funny enough... although it also cost the movie a Star on my Ratings System. Because the movie ends with a car race, Thelma Todd and Dorothy Lee are completely sidelined and given nothing worthwhile to do during this finale--which is a shame, because they already had very little to do in the picture. Given the slight plot in this film--which, as I mentioned, is mostly here to move us from gag to gag--it's almost a given that Todd has very little to do in the picture at all (and Lee only slightly more-so), because she put on an excellent show in her previous teaming with Wheeler and Woolsey, the more plot-driven "Cockeyed Cavaliers".

"Hips, Hips Horray!" is one of nine films included in the Wheeler and Woolsey: RKO Comedy Classics Collection.

Friday, August 9, 2019

'Sinners in Paradise' should be left there

Sinners in Paradise (1938)
Starring: John Boles, Madge Evans, Bruce Cabot, Milburn Stone, Willie Fung, and Gene Lockhart
Director: James Whale
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

When a plane bound for China crashes in the South Sea, the surviving passengers--a motly group of killers, criminals, and the criminally annoying--are stranded on an uncharted island. They soon discover they aren't alone, but that the mysterious Mr. Taylor (Boles) and his Chinese servant Ping (Fung) are already living there... shunning civilization for reasons of their own.

"Sinners in Paradise" is a movie that time has passed by. Not only is it a story that I've seen done far, far better (Will Eisner told this type of story several times in his "Spirit" comic strip, and although he may have been drawing inspiration partly from Whale's picture, his tales are better), but the dramatic portions of the story come across as eye-rollingly stupid to contemporary audiences.

This film was far from James Whale's finest work. None of the creativity that was so evident in the productions of "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" can be seen here. Although this film probably had a budget far smaller than any of those other films, it still would have been nice to see something that was a little beyond "get the shot and move on."

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