Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Return of the Space Girls!

Fishbowl helmets, ray guns, and form-fitting spacesuits... space girl fashion is as timeless as the little black dress!

By Al Bigley
By J.R. Murray

By Frank Cho
By Casey & Deering

The Space Girls will once again be seen regularly here at Shades of Grey. I may even resume the reposting of Travis Charest's "Space Girl" series, which  I left on a cliffhanger waaaay back in 2011.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

'Putting Pants on Philip' is the dawn of a great comedy team

Putting Pants on Philip (1927)
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Harvey Clark, Sam Lufkin, and Dorothy Coburn
Director: Clyde Bruckman
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A young Scotsman, Philip (Laurel), comes to visit his uncle (Hardy) in the U.S. After a series of mishaps involving Philip's kilt, the uncle decides to make him wear pants.

"Putting Pants on Philip" is the birth of the legendary comedy team of Laurel & Hardy. While the personalities of their characters weren't in place, and their trademark costumes were likewise nowhere to be seen, the interplay between them is here... and that is enough to make this film worth watching.

In fact, I have a sense that if this film had featured anyone *but* Laurel & Hardy, it may have been boring indeed. Its thin premise is bolstered slightly by the kilt-wearing Scotsman also being a womanizer whom the uncle must keep a close eye on or he will literally chase attractive women down, but unfortunately almost every other gag is repeated to the point where it out-stays its welcome. Even with the charm and unpredictable energy of Laurel & Hardy, the 20-minute run-time of this short film is about five minutes too long. Once we get to the point of the title event of the film, things pick up, but it's a bit of a slog getting there.

For big fans of Laurel & Hardy, or lovers of silent comedies, this film might be worth checking out. Everyone else might want to view some of their films from the mid-1930s. But... don't just take my word for it. Take a look at the film right now: I've embedded it below for your viewing pleasure!

Friday, May 25, 2018

'A Night in the Dormitory' is a fun artifact

A Night in the Dormitory (1930)
Starring: Ruth Hamilton, Ginger Rogers, Thelma White, Si Wills, and Eddie Elkins
Director: Harry Delmar
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A college girl (Hamilton) returns to the dorm after sneaking out for a night on the town. She relates her experiences to one of her bunkmates.

"A Night in the Dormitory" is an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular that gives the viewer a sense of what it must have been like to go to a night club that featured floor shows Back in the Day. Heck, the obviously underrehearsed chorus lines that back Thelma White and Ginger Rogers (in her second screen appearance) probably added a healthy dose of verisimilitude to audiences watching this short in theatres back in 1930.

If you enjoy musical production numbers and vaudville routines, I think you'll enjoy this 22-minute collection of bits loosely tied together by the college girl's walk on the Great Depression wildside. The tunes are catching--I find myself humming the one performed by White as I type this--and sloppy chorus lines aside, they're fun to watch.

For everyone else, though, this film is little more than a historical artifact that records the live entertainment preferences of a by-gone era... and one that is probably quite faithful to the nightclub experience, since the producer and director of the film got his start booking and staging the kinds of shows this movie revolves around.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Solo!

I am looking forward to the newest Star Wars prequel, which comes out later this Friday! From the previews, it looks like it could fit right in with the vision I've always had of the Star Wars Universe, one which has been living since I was playing with the action figures on the Death Star playset, and through the Star Wars roleplaying game campaign I've either been running or playing in since 1995.

Here are some illos  in anticipation of "Solo" (aka "When Han Met Lando & Chewie").

By Rich Bernatovech

By Sean Murphy
Sean Murphy

Monday, May 21, 2018

Musical Monday: The Final Countdown with Leo

Here's another entry in the series spotlighting the cover tunes by Leo Moracchioli. Moracchioli is an extremely talented musician and producer of music videos from Norway who specializes in making metal-themed covers of... well, just about any type of song from any genre you care to mention. One of the great things about his work is the crazy sense of humor and wild fun that comes with it.

This cover of "The Final Countdown", and the video that comes with it, are fine examples of everything that makes Leo's presentations so enjoyable!

Check out more of Morachioli's covers on the YouTube Channel for Frog Leap Studios.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

'The Penguin Pool Murder' is a great start for Miss Withers

The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)
Starring: Edna May Oliver, James Gleason, Clarence Wilson, Mae Clarke, Robert Armstrong, Donald Cook, and Guy Usher
Director: George Archainbaud
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When a wife-beating, crooked stockbroker (Usher) is murdered, his wife (Clarke) and her one-time boyfriend (Cook) are the obvious suspects. Sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued school teacher Miss Hildegard Withers (Oliver), who found the body, thinks there's more to the situation, and she badgers Inspector Oscar Piper (Gleason) to keep digging into what seems like an open-and-shut case.

"The Penguin Pool Murders" is a breezy mystery with a cast so charismatic and likeable that one almost forgets the dark subject matter at its heart--spousal that may have led to murder. Because the cast is so likeable, I also find myself forgiving the film for, essentially, being a one-suspect mystery, and becoming evenmoreso when the character that I zero'ed in on as the murderer almost immediately starts becoming super-helpful with the investigation; the film is simply too much fun for that flaw to drag it down too much.

Another strength of the film is the interplay between the two main characters, Miss Withers and Inspector Piper. They start out with obvious disdain for each other, but when they realize that each is actually much smarter than they initially gave each other credit for, you can see the mutual respect develop between them... and by the end, romance is in bloom. (And speaking of romance, the *obvious*--the one we expect from this film--involves a couple nice twists that also make this film stand out.

"The Penguin Pool Murder" was the first of six films with Gleason as Inspector Piper, and of three with Oliver as Miss Withers. I hope every entry in the series is as strong as this one.

Friday, May 18, 2018

'The Undie-World' is fun, but surprisingly mild

The Undie-World (1934)
Starring: June Brewster, Carol Tevis, Grady Sutton, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Dewey Robinson, and Will Stanton
Director: George Stevens
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A gangster (Williams) recruits a violinist (Sutton) to help him impress a pair of sexy roommates (Brewster and Tevis) who live in the apartment across the courtyard from his, by showing them that he's sophisticated and romantic. The girls, however, end up falling for the dorky musician, assuming he's a dangerous Bad Boy. In an effort to salvage his plan, the gangster suggests the four of them go on a double-date. A comedy of errors ensues.

"The Undie-World" is an almost sweet little film that's surprisingly mild, given the title and subject matter. In fact, I can't imagine a more wholesome film where the majority of the main characters are on the make. It's got slapstick, it's got puns, it's got class-based humor... but what it doesn't have is any double-entrendres or anything from the blue category. We get within a mile of "mature" when June Brewster gets knocked down during her first encounter with Grady Sutton and her robe rides up to show some leg, but that's it. Everything though is well-staged and the actors are all perfect in their parts. For the dorky among us, the film even dpresents a little bit of wish-fulfillment as it's the dorky violin teacher who gets the girl(s) in the end.

"The Undie-World" is the first film on the Blondes and Redheads: Lost Comedy Classics DVD collection, but it was the fourth in a series of films that were tied together by featuring as their central characters a pair of young women--one blonde, one redheaded. Although the same actors and actresses appeared in most of them, and usually played characters named after the performers, each film was actually about different characters.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Margot Kidder passes away

This past Sunday, Margot Kidder, the actress who was the cinematic Lois Lane for Generation X, passed away at the age of 69. Here's a gallery of pictures in her memory.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Musical Monday: Leo's Uptown Metal Funk

Norweigan musical virtuoso Leo Moracchioli has performed and produced dozens upon dozens of creative covers of songs along with amusing and creative videos... with the ones where he dons a bunny suit, uses puppets, or borrows his daughter's toy instruments being among the most amusing. No matter what artist, or whatever the original genre the song he's covering is from, Moracchioli takes the song and makes it his own, usually with a hard rock and/or heavy, heavy metal twist. He usually plays every instrument and he plays every one of them well.

I recently noticed that a few of his videos made in black-and-white, so I'm jumping on the excuse to spotlight him here on the blog, just in case someone out there hasn't discovered this great talent. I'll be posting a new one each Monday for the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy these covers as much as I do.

First up is Leo's version of "Uptown Funk." (For much, much more, visit his YouTube Channel.)

Friday, May 11, 2018

Time's passage may have left 'Lucky Ghost' behind

Lucky Ghost (aka "Lady Luck") 1942
Starring: Mantan Moreland, E.F. Miller, Maceo Bruce Sheffield, Florence O'Brien, Arthur Ray, Jessie Brooks, Nappie Whiting, and Henry Hastings
Director: William Beaudine (as William X. Crowley)
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Riding an incredible wave of luck in craps games, two vagabonds (Miller and Moreland), have the chance to become set for life when the irritable operator of an illicit club and casino (Sheffield) bets his entire operation against them on a single winner-takes-all die roll. The ghost of the former owner (Hastings) may have other plans, however.

"Lucky Ghost" may be one of those films that's more interesting as a historical artifact than something that modern viewers should seek out for entertainment. It's rife with the common mid-career weaknesses of most William Beaudine-helmed films--like scenes and jokes that could have been impactful or funny but which are padded well-past the point of even being interesting--and a whole lot of race-based humor that will cause the 21st Century Woke Set to suffer strokes before the halfway mark.

That last bit is perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the film. "Lucky Ghost" is what is termed a 'race picture'--a film made specifically for a black audience during a time when the United States was racially segregated, so there was a market for films to be shown at movie theaters for all-black audiences. Despite this, the all-black line-up of characters in "Lucky Ghost" are almost without fail what today is viewed as racially insensitive and negative stereotypes, far more so than other 'race pictures' I've watched (which, admittedly, aren't very many). Perhaps these caricatures were to the audience back then as stoners or nerds are to viewers of comedies today and were recognized as exaggerations of existing people and not something to get huffy over?

One thing that should still speak just fine to modern audiences, and the best part of the film, is the interplay between stars Mantan Moreland and E.F. Miller. This is one of a handful of films they were teamed in, and they function as a black version of Abbott & Costello, with Miller being the straight man and Moreland providing the antics. I think I've expressed my affection for Moreland in every review of a movie I've seen him in, and it's no different here. All by himself, Moreland brings this film from a Low Four rating to a Low Five... and his presence might have made an even stronger impact if not for some of the scenes where I am certain that Beaudine padded the running time by including all takes on a bit where only one, or two at most, should have been included. Moreland is particularly funny during the gambling scenes, and in a couple of scenes where he is leering at the butts or cleavages of the casino's hostesses and making not-so-subtle innuendos. While the film is labled as having passed the Review Board in the opening credits, one wonders which Hayes Commission censor was sleeping on the job that day!

Another aspect that lifts this film a bit above many other horror-comedies of the period is the nature of ghosts. More often than not, hauntings in these pictures turn out to be hoaxes or misinterpretations of perfectly normal and natural events. No so here; in "Lucky Ghost", the filmmakers go fill-tilt with the phantoms, even treating the audience to what special effects the meager budget could allow. It's a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Milla Jovovich Quarterly: The Fiercest Foe!

Milla Jovovich has destroyed zombies, vampires, interstellar tyrants, and evil mega-corporations... but even she falls victim to the dreaded Bed Head!

Monday, May 7, 2018

'Double Exposure' unfolds at double-time.

Double Exposure (1944)
Starring: Chester Morris, Nancy Kelly, Phillip Terry, Richard Gaines, and Charles Arnt
Director: William Berke
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The road to romance is rocky for editor Larry Burke (Morris) and photographer Pat Marvin (Kelly), with deception, jealousy, and frame-ups for murder getting in their way.

  "Double Exposure" is a fast-moving comedy that mixes up the familiar elements of fast-talking and quick-witted reporters; dodgy and eccentric rich people; romance complicated by social mores and deceptions; and a murder mystery that would be slightly less of a murder mystery if the police weren't lazy. It's a B-movie stew, but it's a tasty one.

This is a movie that hits the ground running and it never slows down, with gags and plot complications flying at the viewer non-stop. As mentioned above, the film is made up of familiar elements and there is nothing here that is terribly original, but what we have is so perfectly deployed that fans of movies from this era can't help but have fun while watching it. In fact, this film is so well put together that some of the things that usually annoy me--such as Insta-Romances between the male and female leads, and One-Suspect Murdery Mysteries--don't bother me here at all.

As a bonus for the modern viewer, the film also has some commentary on the challenges that career-oriented women had to face during the 1940s. The commentary is shallow and breezy, just like the rest of the film, but it adds an interesting dimension that may speak differently to us than it did to those sitting in the theaters in 1944.

The one complaint I have about the film is the soundtrack. I'm used to so-so and often bizarrely inappropriate music over the opening credits of these old B-movies, but it's rare that it shows up during the run-time as wildly inappropriate scoring. During a scene where Burke is trying to confirm his suspicions about who the real murderer is, we're treated to the happy, cheerful music that opened the film. I'm sure someone during editing said, "we can't have a scene this long that's this quiet... what will we do?" but then someone else made the WRONG choice when it came to "fixing" it.

But one "sour note" doesn't come close to ruining the overall experience of this film. It's well worth the time spent watching it!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

It's Cinco de Mayo!

For a few days now, I've been seeing posts in my Facebook feed designed to instruct me on the True Meaning of Cinco de Mayo (or lack there-of). Well, those posts convinced me that I had to do a Cinco de Mayo post of my own this year--the third one in the decade or so that this blog has been around.

I have made an effort to be faithful to the wishes of those who took it upon themselves to preach to unwashed masses. Cinco de Mayo is a commemoration of a battle that helped put an end to France's imperial ambitions in the Americas, and this post is here to remind the world about that.



Friday, May 4, 2018

The Moonshiner's Daughter: Cute but not a 10

The Moonshiner's Daughter, or Abroad in Old Kentucky (1933)
Starring: Russell Hopton, Lucile Browne, Russell Simpson, Frank McGlynn Jr., Mary Carr, and Mitchell Lewis
Director: Al Ray
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When Pa Catfield (Simpson) killed the last Ratfield, it seemed the generational feud that had bathed Wolf Mountain in blood for so long was finally over. But when a Revenuer (Hopton) turns out to be a Ratfield AND becomes romantically involved with the lovely Emmy Catfield (Browne), a whole new feud begins.

Produced as a fund-raiser by the Masquers, which was a social club for comedians in Hollywood, "The Moonshiner's Daughter" is a mildly amusing comedy that's packed full of one-liners and slapstick from beginning to end. There aren't any laugh-out-loud moments--although the baby has some moments that come close--but there aren't any dull ones either. It's a competently staged spoof, but that's about it.

That said, one of the things I found the funniest about the film is the fact that the government agent is clearly wearing his badge on his coat for the entire film, even when he's telling the mountain-folk that he's not a revenuer, no sir. I am also very fond of the second title, being the lover of bad puns that I am.

The best moments in the film are when there's interaction between Russell Hopton and Lucile Browne. The two play well off each other, and it's a shame that they do not appear to be done any other films together. One wonders what might have been if they'd been paired in something more than a quickie short film.

Trivia: There were at least three other short films titled "The Moonshiner's Daughter" prior to this one (four if you count one titled "The Mountaineer's Daughter" that had it as an alternate title. They were all silent films (from 1910, 1912, and 1914 respectively). Although the ones information is available on had plots very different than this one, it could be that this was a wide enough sub-genre back then that audiences in the early '30s were amused by elements in this film that are muted today.

May the Fourth...

It's a pun that makes fun of speech impediments and an excuse to post some Star Wars art, so May the Fourth Be Wif You!

By Tony Harris
By Al Williamson

By Sordet Romain

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Princesses of Mars, Part 24

It's time for another of our ocassional trips to Barsoom to visit with the beautiful and deadly Pricesses of Mars!

By Frank Frazetta
By Tom Yeates
By Scott Fischer

By Dawn McTiegue