Thursday, July 18, 2019

It's National Hot Dog Day!

It's National Hot Dog Day today, August 18... and since Oscar Meyer now makes hotdogs (cheese dogs--yum!) I can actually eat (none of the preservatives I'm allergic to!) I shall have one celebrate! Maybe I'll have several... and have them brought to me, worn by fair maidens!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Princesses of Mars, Part 31

Portraits of Princesses Lounging Around Their Throne Rooms...

By Fabinon Eves
By Mahmud Asrar
By Overlander
By Jay Ancleto
By Mitch Foust

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Arabiantics of Felix the Cat

Arabiantics (1928)
Director: Otto Messmer
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Felix the Cat trades a bottle of milk for a magic carpet that flies him to the cartoon version of the Middle East. Here, he becomes fabulously wealthy, but his treasure is stolen by an evil sultan and trained mice. Naturally, Felix comes up with a scheme to regain what is his.

During the mid- to late 1920s, Felix the Cat was a hugely popular figure, and his cartoon and comic-strip antics were beloved by kids and adults alike. (How do we know Felix was loved by adults? Well, these photos of Felix dancing with a scantily clad honey seems to be a pretty good indication.) As sound arrived, Felix's popularity with movie-goers was waning, and by the mid-1930s, he was gone from Hollywood. He continued his adventures in the funny papers and in comic books well into the 1960s, however, and continues to see occasional revivals to this very day. Even if you haven't seen a single Felix the Cat cartoon or comic strip, chances are you've seen his smiling face at one point or another. (More on Felix here, at Wikipedia.)

Personally, I'm not a big fan of Felix the Cat, because in many of the cartoons, he goes too far out of his way to be jerk. However, I love the surreal universe he exists in--where he can pluck elements from the background scenery and turn them into weapons, a musical instrument, or even a car--and the strange place he occupies between a cat walking around on four legs and a full-blown anthropomorphic Disney character, so I seek them out occasionally to find one to my liking.

And "Arabiantics" turns out to be very much to my liking. This is a rare Felix outing where he is a sympathetic character from beginning to end.

As the cartoon opens, he's a stray cat looking for somewhere comfortable to spend the night (but doesn't find it), and just when things are looking up for him, his well-earned treasure is stolen and he's worse off than he was at the beginning of the film. The methods by which he goes about regaining his treasure are funny and clever and almost entirely free of the mischievous malice that is so prevalent in other Felix cartoons I've viewed. What's more, every gag in this film is either sweet, hilarious, or hilariously weird.

I've embedded the cartoon for your viewing pleasure below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

'The Electric House' will spark laughter

The Electric House (1922)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Steve Murphy, and Virginia Fox
Directors: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A botanist (Keaton) is mistaken for an electrical engineer and is hired to install electricity in a millionaire's mansion. He goes above and beyond the call of duty and turns the house into a mechanical marvel that puts the smart-houses of 2019 to shame... but then the engineer who should have had the job (Murphy) decides to take revenge.

"The Electric House" is a tour-de-force of set building. The devices and the prop comedy around them are the real stars of this picture, and the film starts to drag when it strays from this, like the bit where Keaton struggles with a heavy trunk. While this sets up other gags, it feels like filler, which is a bad thing in a movie that only runs a little over 22 minutes.

That sequence, though, is the only real quibble I have with the picture. I have a few nitpicks with how long it took Keaton's character to catch onto the sabotage (which is mostly excused by the way he ultimately deals with the saboteur), as well as some of the business at the end (which is almost made up for by the film's final moment), but over all, this is an enjoyable picture. It doesn't have that frenetic feeling that my favorite Keaton films convey, but it is still a heck of a lot of fun. (It's also interesting to see that diploma mills have been around for at least 100 years, because without an indifferently run university, the story of this movie would not have taken place.)

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

Trivia: This film suggests  the concept of a dishwashing machine nearly a decade before it was invented.

Friday, July 12, 2019

'Alum and Eve' brings chaos to the hospital

Alum and Eve (1932)
Starring: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, and James Morton
Director: George Marshall
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Thelma (Todd) tries to lie her way out of a speeding ticket by telling the highway patrol officer (Morton) that she was rushing her sick friend (Pitts) to see a doctor. When the officer kindly offers to help by giving a police escort, a of events are set into motion that throws an entire hospital into chaos.

"Alum and Eve" has a set-up that we've seen in other Pitts/Todd/Kelly comedies--the ladies are out driving and trouble ensues (like in "The Old Bull" and "Beauty and the Bus")--but this one takes a crazier and darker turn than an in any of the shorts in this series I've seen so far. This is one of those films where I can't go into to many details without ruining the viewing experience, but I think that if Hal Roach had hired H.P. Lovecraft to write a comedy starring Pitts & Todd, it would have turned out something like what we have here: What starts as a simple lie swiftly descends into a hilarious chaotic madness and doom!

Although I count this one among the best Pitts/Todd teamings I've watched so far (which is about half of the ones they made together), its flaws are pretty big. Primarily, there are a couple slapstick scenes go on for too long. First, there's a bit  where the ZaSu Pitts character is being manhandled by James Morton's highway patrol officer in an effort to get her into the hospital, but Pitts is replaced by a poorly concealed body-double which all but ruins the scene. This is followed almost immediately with a sequence involving the three stars, two orderlies, and a nurse, all tangled up in a gurney; it starts out mildly amusing, but becomes boring and dumb as it drags on. Both of these are within the first five minutes of this 18-minute film... which left with with low expectations for what was to follow.

"Alum and Eve" gets much, much better, however. Once the characters are either causing mayhem in the hospital examining rooms, or our two heroines are trying to escape before ZaSu is either subjected to some unpleasant and unnecessary medical procedures or Thelma is hauled off to jail for lying to a police officer, this is one funny movie. While I was particularly appreciated the insane, dark humor at play here, I am also very fond of a gag where Thelma Todd scampering around in her slip (since she, once again, manages to lose her clothes) brings about a medical miracle.

As for the the performances by the various actors in the film--everyone is great in their parts. This is another one where Todd and Pitts get to play to their strengths as performers, and every member of their supporting cast is perfect in their roles. The chemistry between Pitts and Todd on-screen also makes it perfectly believable that not only would ZaSu continue to play along with Todd's increasingly outlandish stories as to why she needs to have medical treatment, but that Todd will also make every effort to extract her friend from the situation she's gotten her into.

This is one of 17 short films that ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd made together, and they've all been collected into a single DVD set. It's one of the reasons you should pick it up, especially if you've enjoyed more famous Hal Roach productions, such as the short films starring Laurel & Hardy or Harold Lloyd.

Trivia: The Alum of the title (and a major part of the action during the final third of the film), is a compound that was used to cauterize cuts, because it causes skin to tighten. (I looked it up, so I thought I'd share this tidbit.) I've no idea if it still used medically today, but it apparently is still used in home-made preserves and pickling.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Space Girl Adventures, Part Twenty-two

What Has Gone Before: Spacegirl is trying to get off Delta Moon Station before those on her trail catch up to her.


In a change of pace from closing this installment with the just the usual Retro-Space Girl drawing, here are the adventures of another Space Girl-- a bonus series from Ramen Empire.

By Bob Layton

Monday, July 8, 2019

That time Betty Boop went to Hell...

Red Hot Mamma (1934)
Starring: Bonnie Poe (as the voice of Betty Boop)
Director: Dave Fleischer
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

When Betty Boop accidentally opens a gate to Hell, she decides to check the place out.

"Red Hot Mamma" is one of the greatest Betty Boop cartoons ever made; heck, it might be one of the greatest cartoons, period. Hell has never been jazzier and funnier than it is here: Even the initiations of new demons into the infernal ranks is a laff riot! It was also one of the last of the truly "risqué" ones, as the Hayes Office hammer was about to come down on the Fleischer Studios and the rest of Hollywood.

In fact, "Red Hot Mamma" as so "risqué" that it was banned by Great Britain's film censorship board in 1934, not because of sexiness but because they considered the lighthearted portrayal of Hell to be blasphemous. Maybe it's the fact that I'm not terribly religious, maybe its 85 years of eeeevil cultural decay, but I don't see the blasphemy here. If anything, the film makes a point about how the pure of heart can resist and overcome evil, since the film shows Betty to be the baddest Good Girl there is when she responds to devils who are happy to see her ("Hiya Betty!") with a shoulder so cold--and such a frigid stare--that Hell literally freezes over! (There's another element to Betty's trip to Hell that makes this ban even more of a head-scratcher for me, but to talk about it would really ruin )

But what do you think? Did this cartoon deserve to be banned by the British Board of Film Distribution? I've embedded it in this very post, for you to enjoy the sleek animation, nifty music, and hilarious sight gags--right here, right now.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

'Cheating Blondes' can safely be avoided

Cheating Blondes (aka "Girls in Trouble") (1933)
Starring: Thelma Todd, Ralf Harolde, Milton Wallis, Gilbert Frayle, Inez Courtney, Dorothy Gulliver, Mae Busch, and Brooks Benedict
Director: Joseph Levering
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After her would-be rapist is shot, Anne Merrick (Todd) assumes the identity of her missing twin sister, Elaine (also Todd), to avoid being charged with murder. Meanwhile, her rejected newspaper reporter would-be husband (Harolde) is devoting every waking moment to see her captured, tried, and executed.

"Cheating Blondes" has some interesting issues at its core--domestic abuse and the problems that arise in society when women are treated as if they have less value than men. There is literally not a male character in the film who doesn't view women as things that are to be counted among their possessions, or treated as commodities, and there isn't a female character who doesn't suffer in some way because of it. There's also a hint of a murder mystery in the film... and it may have been more than a hint, or less of a mystery, if I'd been able to watch the entire film.

Unfortunately, there is a complete reel missing in the copy that's available on DVD, and it's a chunk of the film that contains a whole lot of plot that explains how Anne made contact with her sister's agent Mike Goldfish (Milton Wallis) and personal trainer Polly (Inez Courtney) and assumed her sister's identity with their knowledge and blessing; explains the connection between the agent and sister Elaine's weathy admirer Gilbert Frayle (Earl McCarthy); establishing a mystery around who actually shot the wife-beating, would-be rapist (Brooks Benedict); and further expands on the evidence that Ralf Harolde's reporter character is an absolute prick.

At least I assume that all those things happen in the 12 or so missing minutes, because, if they don't, then this is one of most disjointed, badly developed films of all time. There might even be something in there to make the title make sense, because right now, this film has a distinct lack of "cheating blondes". (In all seriousness, SOME or all of things must have been covered, because even the worst screenwriter and director in the world would have set up the developments that happen later in the film to at least a small degree, instead of having them drop on the confused viewer.)

That missing chunck of the film--a very key chunk--makes it hard to evaluate this film, because I really can't be sure to what degree my assumptions are right or wrong. For example, while watching the film, I was convinced that the manager had murdered Anne's sister, Elaine, because she was dropping him as an agent, but this turns out to be wrong assumption. Likewise, I suspect Mae Busch's and Ralf Harolde's character's got more development, because their behavior in the second half of the film seems like it needed more set-up than what is here. The same is true of some of the film's ending. Depending on what was in that missing piece, my rating could be one Star higher or lower... but I doubt I'll ever know what I missed.

While what there is here gets off to a slightly shakey start--Thelma Todd is quite terrible in the scene she has with Dorothy Gulliver, lending more credence to my theory that her performance is greatly impacted by whom she's playing off--but it quickly picks up, as everyone else is pretty decent. Even Todd is better in her later scenes, including one with Gulliver, so the movie is worth sticking with. Evenmoreso, this is an interesting bit of film due to its very stark treatment of sexism and misogny. Sexism, and even spousal abuse, is something that's just part of the fabric of life in many of these films from 1930s--because it probably was just a part of the fabric of life--but in "Cheating Blondes", treating women like objects or somehow lesser people is very much presented as a negative: It gets one characer killed and it literally ruins an otherwise successful career of another character. Meanwhile, the male character who recognizes that his presumptious and demanding behavior toward Todd's character Anne is unreasonable and uncivilized, and apologizes for and corrects his behavior, gets to enjoy a happy ending.

"Cheating Blondes" is available on DVD with "Cheers of the Crowd", a movie that isn't missing any pieces, but which also isn't all that good. If "Cheating Blondes" does sound interesting to you, I recommend you view it at one of several free online sources.

Friday, July 5, 2019

'Timeless' is a sweet modern-day silent film

Timeless (2013)
Starring: Joel Feitler and Candice Dayton
Director:  Micah Mahaffey
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A young genius (Feitler) builds a time machine in order to prevent the death of his wife (Dayton).

"Timeless" is a silent short film that isn't a century or so old; as of this writing, it's not even a decade since it was made. Micah Mahaffey wrote and directed a small number of silent short films back in the early 2010s, and if any of the others are as good as this one, I'll probably write about and embed them in this space.

The most impressive thing about this film is that Mahaffey tells a complete story in under three minutes. I have watched a lot of short films over the past few years, and more often than not, filmmakers present vignettes rather than giving us something with a beginning, middle, and end. Here, we are treated to all the niceties you'd expect from a well-crated tale--including a denoument!

I was also impressed by the fact that Mahafferey clearly understood the limitations of his budget and resources, and he worked within them to pull off some nice special effects. He could have easily overreached and given us something that looked cheesy. Instead, he gave us something that looked just right.

The only negative points I can raise about the film is that I didn't quite buy the notion that the grieving widower seemed too young to build a time machine--it seemed like something that would have taken him a decade or more (at least), not just three years. Another thing I didn't quite like was the organ music score. It wasn't that the music was bad... it was that it was an organ. (I think I understand the reasons for both of these negatives. The first goes back to Mahaffey working with the resources he had available, and as a young filmmaker, it's natural he would a young cast to draw on so the time machine had to be invented within a short timespan. As for the second... well, it is a silent movie, so why use organ music? However, I think this story would have  been better served by a grand piano.)

I recommend taking a few minutes to check out "Timeless" for yourself. I hope you like it as much as I did.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Getting ready for the Fourth of July!

U.S. Flags? Check!
Star-spangled Shorts? Check!
Fireworks and More Fireworks? Check!

Lilian Bond is ready to celebrate Independence Day! How about you?

Monday, July 1, 2019

Musical Monday with Holly Macve

"The Corner of My Mind" is a song with beautiful, haunting lyrics and a visually fascinating video... it's country-western music by way of Yorkshire, England, and brought to us by Holly Macve.

I think even if you don't usually like country-western music, you may like this song. Take a listen!

And here are some pictures of Ms. Macve, because posting pictures are one of things I do around here! (And you can read more about her, here.)

Sunday, June 30, 2019

'Ring Up the Curtain' has Harold Lloyd bringing down the house

Ring Up the Curtain (1919)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, Harry Pollard, Bud Jamison, and William Blaisedell
Director: Alf Goulding
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

An incompetent stage hand (Lloyd) gets the hots for a flirtatious leading lady (Daniels) and ruins a performance as a result.

"Ring Up the Curtain" is a fun little tale that demonstrates the importance of having a good backstage crew supporting the performers on stage... because all the complications in this picture arise from the bad choices made by a theatre owner (William Blaisdell) in hiring a bunch of drunks. He compounds his error by firing them all, except for one, as a troupe of vaudevillians are about to put on a performance. His catastrophic mistakes are to our benefit, however, as the chaos Harold the Useless Stagehand is hilarious to watch.

The film isn't perfect, though. After a strong start, featuring the sacking of the drunken stagehands, about a minute is wasted on the theatre owner abusing Harold and some shtick with a bowler hat that drags on for too long. Once Bebe Daniels and the rest of the acting troupe shows up, the film gets back on target.

The good outweighs the bad here, though. The scene were Harold out-and-out sexually harasses Bebe Daniels in the middle of the performance and ends up on stage fighting with her husband (played by Harry Pollard) is already comedy gold, but it's made even funnier by the way Harold forces an actor practicing his lines to hold the rigging ropes in the wing.

But don't just take my word for how fun this little movie is; I've made it easy for you to check it out by embedding it below, via YouTube.

Friday, June 28, 2019

'Show Business' is full of funny business

Show Business (1932)
Starring: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, Anita Garvin, Monte Collins, and Otto Fries
Director: Jules White
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A pair of vaudevillians and their singing monkey (Pitts and Todd) get a last minute gig as a replacement act in a touring show. Things start to go wrong even before they set foot on stage, as they end up at odds with the show's ego-maniacal star (Garvin).

At the center of "Show Business" is a professional lifestyle that was coming to an end by the 1930s--that of a member of a traveling variety show that criss-crossed the nation on any number of theatrical circuits. Muscians, chorus girls, actors, and comedians... all would travel together from engagement to engagement, essentially spending their lives on the road (or, more specifically, on the train tracks). Headliners would often be fixed, but smaller acts would drop in and drop out, which is where our heroines enter the picture

After a weak beginning that should have just been used to set up the monkey and the excuse for later showing viewers Thelma Todd walking around in a hat and her underwear, but which is crippled by Pitts doing some unfunny prop comedy involving a telephone and a half-eaten apple, followed by a just-as-unfunny bit involving a dresser drawer, the film really takes off. From the moment the action changes to the train station, and we're introduced to the film's antagonists, Anita Garvin and her manager Monte Collins, through to the final fade-out, we are treated to hilarious chaos and some fine comedic acting.

In "Show Business", Thelma Todd gets to show off what made her such a fantastic screen actress (and I'm taking about the skimpy outfit she's almost not wearing in the pseudo-catfight at the train station). There are multiple in this picture where her face says everything that's going through the character's mind, and just watching Todd's facial expressions change (as she goes from confused to angry, or self-righteously indignant to embarrassed) provide some of the film's funniest moments.

Anita Garvin also shines in this picture, playing a variant of the shrewish wife she'd portray in several Laurel & Hardy pictures, but here the main target of her ire is her manager played by Monte Collins while Todd and Pitts and their mon inadvertently make both their lives very difficult. It's a common in these kinds of shorts to see self-important characters be humiliated by the bumbling clowns with whom the audience's sympathies rests, and Garvin is so good at playing an obnoxious, self-entitled primadonna that her unraveling is extra satisfying. Meanwhile, Collins occupies an interesting place in the configuration of characters, swinging from threat to our heroines to an almost ally, as he tries to get them settled in the train so he can be spared any more abuse from Garvin.

The only disappointing member of the main cast here is ZaSu Pitts, but I don't think it's her fault. For the most part, she was stuck doing unfunny prop comedy, and her fidgety character seemed out of place surrounded by all the loud, overly theatrical types that occupy the rest of the film. That said, she had a couple shining moments in the part of the film at the train station, as she is trying to convince a police officer (Otto Fries) why it's a bad idea for him to make Thelma take off her coat; and later after she and Thelma wake everybody up on a sleeping car while trying to get into their bunk themselves.

Despite its weak opening, and a couple minor hiccups along the way (there is a point where some time must pass between scenes, but there's no indication of it, so the film feels a bit disorganized for few moments) "Show Business" is a fun entry in the Todd/Pitts series of comedies that benefits both for a strong script and the fact that most of its cast is in parts that let them play to their strengths as performers. (Although it's a shame that we never get to hear the monkey sing.

"Show Business" is one of 17 shorts contained in a two DVD set that features all of the films Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts made together.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Picture Perfect Special: It's June!

Born on June 25, 1925, June Lockhart got her start as a child actor on the stage, and began acting in film as a teenager during the early 1940s, with an emphasis on Westerns and other historical dramas.

By the 1950s, Lockhart had become a successful television acgtress. She had recurring roles on several series and was a frequent star or supporting actress on episodes of various anthology shows.

As the 1960s arrived, June became one of the most recognizable TV Moms for several generations of Americans, playing the mother on both "Lassie" and "Lost in Space". She also had a recurring as as Dr. Janet Craig during the last three seasons of "Petticoat Junction".

Lockhart has appeared in over 170 movies and TV shows, with her career spanning eight decades. She most recently appeared in the based-on-a-true story comedy "Zombie Hamlet" (2012) and the movie-industry based comedy "The Remake" (2016).

June Lockhart turns 94 today, and we here at Shades of Gray wish her a Happy Birthday!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Musical Monday with whenyoung

Last month, Irish indie-rock trio whenyoung (Aiofe Power, Niall Burns, and Andrew Flood) released their debut album, "Reasons to Dream". I think their song, "Future" is a great tune with which to get your work-week started right.

"Future" is a song about how you should never let darkness and dispair overtake you, but always hold onto the hope that the future will bring better times and strive to reach that future. The fantastic video (directed by Michael Baldwin and starring the very talented child actor Badger Skelton) can be watched below. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Move over Romeo & Juliet... because here come Buster & Ginnie!

Neighbors (1920)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, Joe Keaton, and Eddie Cline
Directors: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A romantic relationship between two neighbor teens (Keaton and Fox) triggers a feud between their parents, and eventually throws their entire neighborhood chaos.

"Neighbors" starts with a "Romeo and Juliet" vibe, with two young lovers who just want  and then spirals outward outward into total chaos. Within the space of less than 18 minutes, this film moves from being a spoof of a stereotypical melodrama (about young lovers being kept apart by angry parents) into being a wild series of crazy slapstick routines and acrobatic stunts (as Buster alternately tries to circumvent the angry fathers to make time with the love of his life, tries to get back at her father for standing in his way, and then tries to avoid arrest after mistakingly bopping a beat cop on the head), before circling back around to satire by poking fun at the court system and ultimately returning to making fun of melodramas as the star-crossed lovers try to get married.

Like most of the Keaton short films I've watched, "Neighbors" has a dream-like quality about it where life itself seems to be a series of non-sequitors and everyone seems, annoyingly, to be getting in the way of achieving even the simplest of goals, no matter how hard you trying to avoid them and run around them. (Although, maybe, the fact that I consider this to be dream-like may say more about me than it does about the movie...)

"Neighbors" was the first short that Buster Keaton made with Virginia Fox, and for most of her roles during the rest of her career, she would be teamed with him; Fox retired from acting in 1925 after marrying Hollywood Kingpin Darryl F. Zanuck. Fox is a decent performer, but she's no Sybil Seely, who was prettier, more charismatic, and whom Keaton reportedly would have liked to have made more films with if Seely had been available.

But why don't you take a little time out of your day and check out "Neighbors" for yourself? I've embedded the films, via YouTube, so you can enjoy it right here, right now.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Spacegirl Adventures, Part Twenty-one

What Has Gone Before: Cadet Beta, aka Spacegirl, is trapped on Moon Station Delta and is being hunted by the authorities.

By Travis Charest

By Mitch Foust

Friday, June 21, 2019

... the Honorable Betty Boop presiding!

With the Supreme Court of the United States currently handing down decisions, this seems like a great time to post this fun Betty Boop cartoon that I think we can all relate to: We start our day in a great mood, looking forward to whatever it will bring... but encounters with other people soon make us wish that we were a Hangin' Judge with the authority to mete out punishments to fit the crimes of ruining our day and our good mood! (And in addition to its satisfying plot, this great little cartoon features a catchy song that you may find yourself humming later on.)

Judge for a Day (1935)
Starring: Betty Boop (voiced by Mae Questel)
Director: Dave Fleisher
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A fresh start for the Todd-starring comedies

Beauty and the Bus (1933)
Starring: Patsy Kelly, Thelma Todd, Don Barclay, and Eddie Baker
Director: Gus Meins
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The car that Thelma (Todd) wins in a drawing proves to be bad luck for any driver who shares the road with her on the way home.

After ZaSu Pitts' contract with the Hal Roach Studio expired, and she moved onto other things, Patty Kelly became Thelma Todd's teammate in Roach's attempt at creating the female equavilent of Laurel & Hardy's box office success. "Beauty and the Bus" was the first of nearly 20 shorts for the new pair, and it's a bit of a mixed bag.

Story-wise, this film is a fast-paced series of interconnected and ever-escalating gags that take the main characters from situations that are bad, to worse, to disastrous. On that front, this is a promising start for what I hope will make the second half of the Year of the Hot Toddy a lot of fun. (In case you just arrived in these parts, I set myself the goal of watching a film featuring Thelma Todd every week of 2019, because I noticed my "To Be Watched" stack had somehow come to contain an abundance of them.)

One of the strengths of this film is that, although the strong and plentiful supporting cast gets to be just as funny as Kelly and Todd (with Eddie Baker as a traffic cop being foremost among them), the main characters remain at the center of the action instead of being crowded out of the story as happened in some of the films with Pitts and Todd. On the other hand, though, as much fun as her energetic performance was to watch, I found Patsy Kelly's character supremely annoying: She's aggressively stupid to the point where you can't help but wonder why anyone--let alone Todd's character who comes across as slightly aloof--would want to be anywhere near her. Kelly is literally the catalyst for everything that goes wrong for Todd in this picture, including taking her into a ticket and escalating a minor fender-bender into a multi-car accident and full-fledged traffic jam.

Ultimately, though, this film is a lot of fun. The dynamic between Todd's character and Kelly's character is very different than that between Todd and Pitts--it seems to me there was almost always a touch of the genteel in them that is completely absent here. Of course, when you have a stereotypical, short-tempered Fighting Irish(wo)man rampaging through the film, there isn't any room to be ladylike. I look forward to seeing how this team develops. (Although I will probably watch a few of the 10 or so Todd/Pitts shorts I've yet to see before I get back to this line-up.)

 "Beauty and the Bus" is one of 21 short films included in the Complete Hal Roach Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly DVD collection.

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!

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