Friday, May 31, 2019

'Don't Shove' should be seen

Don't Shove (1919)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Bud Jamison, Bebe Daniels, Lee Lampton, Noah Young, and Fred Newmeyer
Director: Alf Goulding
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

While trying to impress an eligible young lady (Daniels) at her birthday party, a young man (Lloyd) ends up fighting with rivals for her attention (Jamison and Lampton) and causing chaos at a roller rink.
With "Don't Shove", I'm starting to understand why Lloyd is remembered as largely playing charming characters who are looking for happiness and romance but who find trouble instead. I've previously commented on how I was put off by the "hero" he portrayed in a number of shorts I'm probably not going to bother write about, but here, he is generally reacting to provocations or trouble started by other characters; in seems that once he came up with his Glasses character, he increasingly left behind the obnoxious trickster character he typically portrayed in earlier films.

"Don't Shove" is a brief film, but it's jammed with action, gags, AND story from its opening moments. Highlights of the film include Bud Jamison angrily stalking Harold after he's gotten him ejected from a party they were both attending, and pretty much everything that follows after Harold exaggerates his rollerskating ability in a desire to impress  Bebe Daniels. And, this is another film where it's fun just to watch Bebe Daniels act--she'd been in front of movie cameras for more than a decade at this point and her experience shows.

I've embedded "Don't Shove" via YouTube below. Why don't you take a break, watch it, and spend a few minutes laughing?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Love Quarterly: Magical Mystery Chairs

Last time around for The Love Quarterly, we revealed how Bessie Love secretly battled occult forces between starring in movies during the 1920s and 1930s. This time around, we're going to cover something she learned during her cultist-busting career: Hidden, often in plain sight, throughout the world are a surprising number of magical chairs. Some were purposefully constructed and enchanted, others became magically charged by absorbing intense spiritual energies for many years.

Love brought two magic chairs into her own home, one was a gift from a sorceress who was an ally in her fight against evil, the other was seized from a cult leader. The first chair, which stood in the corner of her sitting room, grants the person sitting in it the ability to instantly know what is on up to 100 written pages by just touching them; and the other chair, which she kept in her library, makes the person in it more able to see through lies while being more adept at telling them.

The rest of the text in this post is released under the Open Game License and may be reproduced according to its terms. Copyright Steve Miller 2019.

MAGICAL MYSTERY CHAIRS (for d20 System Games)
The GM can use the following tables to randomly generate magical chairs. Players can discover the enchantments of the chairs through whatever means are available in the campaign, except for those listed under WHAT CURSE DOES THE CHAIR BESTOW? Any curses should be discovered when they are inflicted.

1-7.  No
9.     Yes. Roll twice on WHAT BENEFIT DOES THE CHAIR GRANT?
10.   Yes. Roll once on WHAT BENEFIT DOES THE CHAR GRANT? and
*The GM can check this table whenever the characters search a room furnished with one or more chairs using methods that can detect magical auras.

1. As a full round action, absorb the information in up to 100 pages
    touched while seated in the chair. The character must be able to
    read the language, even if he or she isn't actually reading the
    text. The book or pages not need to be leafed through. The GM
    may require Knowledge skill checks or Intelligence checks for
    the character to comprehend the information if the text covers
    obscure or advanced subjects. Texts longer than 100 pages may
    be divided up and absorbed at different times, but loose pages
    must be placed in different stacks, and books must be opened
    to the point from which absorption is to take place.
    The chair's power can be used once every 12 hours.
2. +4 to all Knowledge skill checks while seated.
3. +4 to all Craft skill checks while seated.
4. +6 to Bluff skill checks while seated.
5. +6 to Sense Motive skill checks while seated.
6. Detect Poison and Neutralize Poison at 12th-level effectiveness
    while seated in the chair.
7. True Seeing as spell-like ability for 12 minutes once per hour while
    seated. (12th level effectiveness.)
8. The character does not age, require rest or sustenance while seated in the chair.
9. Brings a being back to life that has been dead less than 24 hours.
    The corpse must be relatively intact with no vital parts missing.
    The being is restored to life with fully healed.
10. Roll again on this table, ignoring and re-rolling additional
      rolls of 10. Additionally, roll once on WHAT CURSE DOES

1. -1 to all saving throws.
2. -1 to all attack rolls.
3. -1 to all saving throws and attack rolls.
4. -2 to all skill checks.
5. The sitter's butt goes numb and can only walk with a
    weird waddle. 1/2 movement rate, -4 to all Acrobatics,
    Balance, Climb, Run, and Tumble skill checks.
6. Suffer 1 point of extra damage per hit or damage dice.
7. While seated the character believes he or she telepathically
    "hears" the thoughts of another character in the room.
     The thoughts indicate the character is planning to betray the
     seated character, or is otherwise allied with an enemy of
     the party. The seated character can focus his or
    attention on someone else in the rool and "hear" that
    individual's thoughts as well. They will likewise be
    hostile or threatening. This is just an delusion caused by
    the chair. It ends once the character leaves the chair.
8. While seated, he character believes that he or she can see
     the true demonic form of another random character in
     the room. This is just a delusion created by the chair, and
     the character who appears to be a shapeshifted demon
     is determined randomly each time someone sits in
     the chair
     The character who sat in the chair believes he or she has gained
     that advantage.
10. Roll two more times on this table, ignoring additional
      rolls of 10.
*Unless otherwise noted, all curses are permanent until the character who sat in the chair is subjected to a Remove Curse, cast at a 12-level or better effectiveness.

Did you find this post interesting or amusing? Consider getting one of the actual products I've produced for NUELOW Games. It will encourage us to make more!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Morality Play, Early 1930s Style

Morals for Women (aka "Big City Interlude") (1931)
Starring: Bessie Love, John Holland, David Rollins, Conway Tearle, Natalie Moorehead, Lina Basquette, Virginia Lee Corbin, Emma Dunn, and June Clyde
Director: Mort Blumenstock
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Growing tired of being a kept woman in the Big City, Helen (Love), reconnects with her childhood sweetheart (Holland) and attempts to move back to the small town she grew up in. But when rumors of her wild city life threatens the happiness of her family, Helen may discover that there's truth in the saying: "You can never go home again".

Like so many early talkies, "Morals for Women" is very stagey in its presentation, with the actors all being very careful as to not step on each other's lines. Unlike so many talkies, "Morals for Women" doesn't suffer from actors who are either performing for the back rows of a theatre or engaging in silent movie melodramatic overacting. All the actors give appropriately measured performances, with no one going over the top or seeming particularly wooden. In fact, for a film of the Poverty Row production houses, the acting is surprisingly good, and, given the subject matter, the script is surprisingly intelligent and subtle at times.

The story revolves around Helen trying to recapture the life she once had in the small town she grew up in and the complications that ensue--with the most dramatic one being her little brother (David Rollins) facing possible jail-time when he assaults someone who believes is spreading vicious rumors about Helen's life in the Big City. Meanwhile, her sugar-daddy (Conway Tearle) alternately tries to replace her and sabotage her effort to leave him by exposing her "wanton ways" to her parents and naive would-be husband  Tearle's character is the closest the film has to a villain, but since he is slightly classier than I think any real-life counterpart to the character would be, the film reaches a predictable happy resolution. (Reality would probably see Helen friendless, penniless, and alone by the end of the film... but, c'mon... no one watching this expects that to be outcome!)

Star Bessie Love comes across a bit flat at times, but generally displays the same charm and energy that she put forward in the silent movies (but which was almost entirely lacking in "Conspiracy" , another of her talkies), and she really holds the film together. This film is an illustration of what a shame it is that Love's Hollywood career was in steep decline at this point, because she was aging out of the roles she had spent her career playing and was not apparently getting more suitable ones. She eventually did manage to transition into a "second phase" to her acting career in the 1950s, but she never enjoyed the status nor the starring roles she had once enjoyed.

Conway Tearle also gives a standout performance as Love's boss/sugar-daddy, coming across equal parts obnoxious and charming. Like Love, I think that Tearle was aging out of the parts he spent his career in silent movies playing, but he was not offered (or maybe didn't accept) any roles but that of the tall, dark, and handsome love interest, so his career was decline at this point. He really feels like he's too old/mature to be in a relationship with Love's character, and it feels like the only reason they are is because she was willing to make it on her back, and he was willing to spend money to buy the attention of a younger woman.

Comic relief is provided by Natalie Moorehead, Lina Basquette, Virginia Lee Corbin, who are great fun as Helen's girlfriends and neighbors. The drift in and out of the film--together and separate--but whenever they appear, their presence is a welcomed one.

"Morals for Women" is available for viewing in several different versions online, each of which is butchered by later editing to bring the film more into line with Hayes Office code compliance, and each of which shows extreme wear-and-tear. Sadly, the commercially available DVD release is worse shape than any of the free versions. It's so bad, in fact, that I can't recommend it.

If you want to check out the film, I've embedded the best publicly available version I've found.

Trivia: Conway Tearle starred in a 1925 movie titled "Morals for Men"; I wonder if the title of this film was chosen to remind film-goers of that older movie?)

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day

Today, we remember and honor the military men and women who died while serving to protect the lives we enjoy here at home.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Witness Keaton do satirical impersonations in 'The Frozen North'

The Frozen North (1922)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Freeman Wood, Bonnie Hill, Sybil Seely, and Joe Roberts
Directors: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After failing to rob a casino, shooting his neighbors due to mistaken identity, covering up the apparent death of his wife (Seely), and being stopped from ravaging the wife of another neighbor (Hill), a Bad Man (Keaton) goes on the run (and fishing) in the frozen wilderness of Alaska.

"The Frozen North" was the last movie Buster Keaton would make with Sybil Seely, and it was her last film, period, as she retired from show business to focus on her family after completing it. It's different than any of the other four films they made together. Where the other films featured plots and gags that flowed smoothly into each other, with the plot driving the gags and the gags likewise furthering the plot, there isn't much connection between segments here. Even "One Week", which essentially is a series of connected individual skits, felt like it had more of a plot than this film. Here, the main character moves from event to event, and gag to gag, with only the faintest of motivation for doing so--not even the plot moves him to do so, because there is very little plot to speak of here.

This is probably because "The Frozen North" was motivated by very different creative impulses than those previous films. This is, first and foremost a satire of western melodramas starring the extremely popular actor William S. Hart. Although Hart is not well-remembered today, audiences in 1922 recognized who Keaton was lampooning--because Keaton reportedly mimicked several of Hart's gestures perfectly--and they reportedly loved it. Hart, however, was not amused, and he made his displeasure known, publicly. According to some sources--including a aquote from Keaton himself--Keaton was upset that Hart was angered, because Keaton was motivated to make the film because he admired and respected Hart. Other sources, however, hold that Keaton didn't mind angering Hart, because they state the motivation for making this film was anger with Hart, who had been a loud and sanctimonious voice condemning Keaton's friend and mentor Roscoe Arbuckle when Arbuckle was falsely accused of raping and killing a starlet. This article (which also reviews "The Frozen North, but contains more spoilers for the film than I usually include here) addresses both theories, and it's an interesting read.

Comedic highlights of "The Frozen North" include Keaton robbing a casino with a cardboard cowboy as his accomplice; the melodramatic scene involving the murder of Keaton's neighbors, perhaps the most savage swipe at Hart's films, as well as one of the funniest dismissal of double homicide ever put on film; where Keaton's dogsled is pulled over by a traffic cop in the Alaskan wilderness; an ice-fishing trip gone wrong; and an attempt on the part of Keaton's character for force himself on his pretty neighbor--a scene that pokes fun at Erich von Stroheim, another melodrama mainstay of the time. (Unlike Hart, Von Stroheim reportedly got a kick out of being the subject of a spoof.)

"The Frozen North" feels a little more disjointed than some of the other early Buster Keaton comedies, and, because the satire has been has been muted by the passage of time, a little lighter on the laughs. However, it's still worth checking out if you enjoy silent movies, because watching Keaton make fun of many of the period's tropes is well worth your time. In fact, you can watch it right now by clicking on the embedded video below.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Spacegirl Adventures, Part Nineteen

What Has Gone Before: Space Girl is trapped on a space station and attempting to avoid capture by the authorities.

By Travis Charest
By Alan Quadh

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

'War Mamas' is mildly amusing

War Mamas (1931)
Starring: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, Guinn Williams, Alan Lane, Stuart Holmes, and Charles Judel
Director: Marshall Neilan
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A pair of WWI nurses (Pitts and Todd) take a wrong turn and end up behind the German lines together with their prank-playing US Army boyfriends (Alan Lane and Guinn Williams). After being sheltered by a sympathetic French noblewoman, the girls concoct a plan to get safely back to friendly territory.

"War Mamas" is a war-time comedy that is full of jokes and gags that were probably well-worn even in 1931. If you loved "Hogan's Heroes", you're bound to get a kick out of this film, even though the timeframe is WW1 rather than WW2: The German officers are the same loud, self-important dimwits, and the Americans are the same plucky tricksters who run circles around them.

Although it might not have you laughing out loud, I think at the very least everyone will watch "War Mamas" with a smile on their faces. There's never a dull moment, and while none of the gags are innovative, they're all well-executed. The cast all do a great job in their parts, but everyone is pretty much also playing roles they've done numerous times before... and will play again in future productions from Hal Roach and other studios, big and small. The highlights of the film is the bit where Thelma Todd is standing between two bellowing Germans, a German officer is trying to seduce ZaSu Pitts,  is the strip poker game our heroines play with the German officers.

"War Mamas" is one of 17 short films that co-starred Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts. They are available in the Thelma Todd & ZaSu Pitts: The Hal Roach Collection, 1931 - 1933.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Mohammed Monday

It's Monday. It's May 20. It's Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, which was a satirical invention of cartoonist Molly Norris, whose life was then subsequently destroyed and snuffed out by idolaters and their eager enablers who pretend they are liberals.

I am bringing back Mohammed Monday to the blog for one day with a handful of classic "Jesus and Mo" cartoons.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Before John Wick... there was Harold Lloyd!

And he even took on all comers--the police, a shadowy group of assassins--and walked away!

Well... presumably he walked away. We don't know for sure, because only fragments remain of the movie where Harold Lloyd came across a band of terrorists after following the beautiful Bebe Daniels back to their lair. I can't really review the movie, because all that remains is a chunk of the middle... but based on what's here, I think this would have been a solid 8 of 10 rating, perhaps even a 9.

Take a look. It's the best action film you'll see this weekend (aside, maybe, for "John Wick: Chapter Three").

Friday, May 17, 2019

'The Astronomer's Dream' is trippy fun!

The Astronomer's Dream (1898) (aka "A Trip to the Moon")
Starring: Georges Méliès and Jehanne d'Alcy
Director: Georges Méliès
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

An astronomer (Méliès) is plagued by strange events in his observatory, culminating in it being invaded by celestial bodies, and an angelic figure with a heavenly body (d'Alcy).

Georges Méliès was a French illusionist who fell in love with the power of moving pictures back when filmmaking was in its infancy. He made dozens upon dozens of trippy short films that were full of inanimate objects turning into people, and visa-versa; people and spirits appearing from, and vanishing into, thin air; and even rocket ships traveling to other worlds. He is widely and accurately considered the father of cinematic special effect, and by 1898, he had already perfected his basic techniques and his films and their visual trickery would only get more elaborate as the Silent Movie Age progressed.

"The Astronomer's Dream" is a rollicking 3-minute long special effects extravaganza which I think is almost as entertaining to modern viewers as it was back in the 1890s. Although there is a story here (but whether it's ultimately a comedy or a tragedy is left up to the viewers' interperation), and there are a some actors doing actor things, the driving force and star of this movie is the special effects. They must have been awe-inspiring back as the 19th century was giving way to the 20th, and while we may be less amazed by them today--since all but the youngest of children or most sheltered of adults know the basics of special effects--the trippiness they bring to the viewing experience remains undulled. After all, what's not to love about a movie where the moon descends to Earth to eat the content of an observatory and disgorge some children? Or a movie where a sexy space goddess decides to drop in, just because?

Whether you're interested in film as an art form, or just want to spend three minutes enjoying a weird little movie that's as charming now as it was 121 years ago, I strongly encourage you watch "The Astronomer's Drea", right here, right now!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Peggy Lipton has passed away

Actress Peggy Lipton, best know for her roles on the legendary TV shows "Mod Squad" and "Twin Peaks", passed away on May 11, 2019, at the age of 72. Here are some photos in memory.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

'Klondike' is low-budget, but high-quality

Klondike (1932) (aka "The Doctor's Sacrifice")
Starring: Lyle Talbot, Thelma Todd, Jason Robards, Henry B. Waithall, George Hayes, Frank Hawks, and Pricilla Dean
Director: Phil Rosen
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After a patient dies following an experimental surgery, Dr. Cromwell (Talbot) finds escape from the harsh judgement of the press and the public in a remote corner or Alaska. His new life and relationship with his new friends are threatened, including his budding romance with the beautiful Klondike (Todd), when he is convinced to perform the surgery on a local (Robards) who is suffering from the same affliction as Cromwell's ill-fated former patient.

"Klondike" is a slightly creaky melodrama that is still has enough elements to recommend it to modern audiences, with two of these being particularly noteworthy. One is a plot twist I don't want to talk about, because I'd ruin the story. The other is the commentary the film makes about a news media that is more interested in being self-righteous and self-important than actually covering the truth of the matter; and public that is either too simple minded or too wrapped up in their own self-righteousness to think any substantive thoughts about an issue beyond what they told by the news media. While it's a newspaper and its editor who have it in for Dr. Cromwell, because they want to make a larger point about medical ethics, its function in the story is no different than some "reporter" on a cable newsprogram or the operator of a website who stirs up the Outrage Brigades against this or that person they believe represents whatever ill they want to destroy. If they destroy the person who's their scapegoat n the process, so much the better--it's entirely secondary if the targeted person is even guilty of what he is being tried and convicted of.

Production-wise, the film is a little better looking than many of Monogram's notriously low-budget pictures. Story-wise, it moves along at a pretty brisk pace and it keeps you invested in the plight of Dr. Cromwell, and the various supporting characters are given enough color that we come to care about them, too. Even more, the story comes to a climax far more tension-laden than many A-list pictures, and we're even given a denoument which is a nicety so often forgotten in movies of this period. (The only time the film dragged was in a scene that took place in an airplane where the characters seemed to go around in circles and repeat variations of the same lines; it felt like either like filler, or the director and producers wanted to use every bit of footage with real-life celebrity aviator Frank Hawks, so they included all takes of Hawks and star Lyle Talbot improvising their lines during the scene.)

Another key to the success of this film is its cast. Although the pregnant pauses are a bit much in certain scenes, every cast member does a far better job than you'd expect in a film like this. The star Lyle Talbot is better in "Klondike" than anything else I've seen him in, and, while Thelma Todd is up to her usual captivating standards, her performance here adds further "evidence" to my theory that her performances are enhanced or hampered by whoever she's playing off/acting with in any given scene. For example, Todd seems to light up the screen even in bit parts when appearing with Charley Chase in a way she doesn't with ZaSu Pitts, for example. In this one film, however, we see her perform several involved scenes with different actors, and she seems more engaged and engaging in her scenes with Lyle Talbot than she does with the ones with Jason Robards. Part of this could be explained by the nature of the characters to one another, but mostly, I think it's how Todd feeds off certain other actors when working with them. (If you're a fan of Thelma Todd, this is a movie you should watch; it's one of the very few dramas she got to appear in during her entirely too-short career.)

Check out "Klondike" below, via YouTube. Until just a few years ago, it was believed that no prints of the film still existed. A copy was found in a private collection in Arizona, and it has been restored to as good a condition as possible, digitized, and released online for all of us to enjoy. (The DVD version of this film from Alpha Video features what appears to be a TV edit, and it is about 15 minutes shorter than the one embedded in this post.)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Doris Day has died

On May 13, 2019, actress and singer Doris Day passed on at the age of 97. Here are a few photos in memory.

Musical Monday with Rammstein

Rammstein is a German hard rock/industrial metal band who's been melting minds and eardrums for a quarter of a century. And they show few signs of slowing down.

The look of the video for their latest single, "Radio", is of the time when much of what this blog covers was created, but the sound is all modern! This new song from German heavy metal band Rammstein is a darker take on the same subject as Queen's "Radio GaGa"... and it's fabulous! (The video is pretty excellent too! I give 'em both 9/10 Stars!)

Take a look and a listen and feel free to let me know if you don't agree, either in the comments, or over on my Facebook page.

And if you don't understand German, here are the lyrics of  "Radio" translated into English by Genius.

Radio Announcer: "Attention, attention. This is Berlin Königs Wusterhausen and the German Shortwave Transmitter. We're broadcasting dance music."

[Verse 1]
We were not allowed to belong
Not to see, speak or listen
But every night for an hour or two
I am gone from this world
Every night, a bit of happiness
My ear up close to the world receiver

Radio, my radio
I let myself be sucked into the airwaves
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio
So I hear what I do not see
Still secretly wanderlust

[Verse 2]
We were not allowed to belong
Not to see, speak or disrupt
Those kinds of songs were forbidden
Such dangerous foreign notes
So every night, a little happiness
My ear up close to the world receiver

Radio, my radio
I let myself be sucked into the airwaves
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio
So I listen to what I do not see
Still secretly wanderlust

Every night I secretly climbed
On the back of the music
Put the ears to the wings
Sing quietly into the hands
Every night and again I fly
Just away with the music
Float through all rooms
No borders, no fences


Radio, radio
Radio, radio

Radio, my radio (my radio)
I let myself suck into the ether
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio (my radio)
So I hear what I do not see
Silence secretly wanderlust

Rammstein's new album is available for sale on May 17, 2019. Get it! Get it NAUHW!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Spider-Woman Sunday

It's another lazy Sunday... and a great time for hanging around with Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman!

By Bob Layton
By Jeremy Thew

By Tim Burg

Friday, May 10, 2019

'Dissolving Classroom' delivers large doses of social commentary with the horror

Dissolving Classroom (2017, Vertical Comics)
Story and Art: Junji Ito
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Whereever handsome Yuuma and his hideous little sister Chizumi go, horror follows in their wake. Beautiful young women are left disfigured, classrooms of students are reduced to mysterious puddles of slime, and the all residents of entire apartment buildings vanish mysteriously. Guilt-ridden Yuuma is constantly apologizing to those who are doomed while Chizumi cackles madly and prances about. What is the terrible truth behind these happenings?

Many of horror master Junji Ito's stories deliver bits of social commentary along with the creepy scares. In "Dissolving Classroom", these messages are more front and center that is usual, and they are the driving force of them. There are two issues tackled in the five stories of "Dissolving" cycle--which are all collected in this volume--and these are that it's sometimes difficult to recognize who is the abuser and who is the abused in relationships; and the ever-growing popularity of call-out culture and the attendant displays of empty apologies. This dual messaging and commentary on how damaging it is to individuals and society as a whole are most clearly on display in the second story, "Dissolving Beauty", and the final tale "Interview with the Devil", which wraps up the cycle with a literally cataclysmic event.

The "Dissolving" stories bear a resemblance in their nature to Ito's most famous cycle of stories, Tomie: In each story, the recurring characters visit doom upon the hapless individuals who cross their paths. Ito was wise in wrapping this one up quickly, though, because there's no mystery behind Yuuma and Chizumi and why people are meeting gruesome ends around them--Yuuma's apologies are actually rituals that sacrifice people to Satan. There's also nothing sympathetic about them; as monstrous as Tomie is, there's an occasional glimmer of humanity that the reader can sympathize with... and her victims sometimes are deserving of their fates. Although Ito tries to inject some humanity in Yuuma and Chizumi toward the end of the cycle, it's too little and it's too late.

Aside from the five "Dissolving" stories, this anthology contains two brief tales. I'm going to take a guess that they were inspired by headlines or news articles that Ito read, and they are both quite thin and at the low end of the quality spectrum that we can expect from him. ("The Return" is curiously touching while "Children of the Earth" is nonsensical--not to mention covering ground that he's already trod more effectively in other stories).

The stories collected in "Dissolving Classroom" aren't among Ito's best work. They're still better than the majority of horror comics that have been published over the years, but there were were none of the moments of dread I've felt reading his previous works. In many ways, Ito has delivered a cycle of stories that felt more like standard horror comics than his usual work. Artistically, there also wasn't much that impressed--nothing was bad, but the only truly standout images were the ones where Ito drew Satan as Yuuma perceived him.

If you're familiar with Ito's work, and you've read everything else, this book is worth checking out. If you're a newcomer, "Uzumaki" is his greatest work to date. "Frankenstein", "Smash", "Shiver", or "Flesh-Colored Horror" are all short story collections that will give you a view of the range of horrors he can deliver when he is at his best.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

'The Pajama Party' was a bust

The Pajama Party (1931)
Starring: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, Eddie Dunn, Elizabeth Forrester, Donald Novis, and Charlie Hall
Directors: Marshall Neilan and Hal Roach
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

ZaSu and Thelma (Pitts and Todd) attend a decadent party after its hostess (Forrester) runs their car off the road and into a lake. Things go from strange to miserable when it turns out their boyfriends (Dunn and Novis) have been hired to provide musical entertainment, and the guys think they are being two-timed.

"The Pajama Party" runs 20 minutes, but it feels longer. Few of the jokes are funny, none of the gags come off quite right, and rather than feeling amused, you're probably going to feel embarrassed on behalf of ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd as they try to fit in among the childish, spoiled high society people they have been forced to spend time with. Further, while usually films of this type usually see the snobbish upper-crust get deflated, we don't even really get to enjoy that here.

The high points of the film (such as they are) involve Pitts and Todd interacting with the maids charged with cleaning them up after their water-logged traffic mishap, with Todd responding to the non-English speaking maid in Pig Latin being a cute bit. Charlie Hall is also amusing as he stumbles his way through the party as a drunk attracted to ZaSu... but Hall is only a bright spot because everything else is so weak.

"The Pajama Party" is one of 17 short films included in the two DVD set Thelma Todd & ZaSu Pitts: The Hal Roach Collection 1931 - 1933, and I hope it's the low point of those films. The commentary by Richard M. Roberts paints a picture of a troubled production, helmed by a director/producer whose personal and professional life was falling apart, and who was fired before the film was fully completed, so that could explain part of why this is such a weak effort. Even allowing for that, I am starting to fear that Hal Roach made a big mistake when he took Todd away from Charley Chases' production unit to have her anchor a series of her own. Her films with Chase were spectacular, and so far none of the Pitts/Todd series have been as good.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Spacegirl Adventures, Part Eighteen

What Has Gone Before: After narrowly surviving the destruction of the spaceship she was in, our heroine was desperately trying to reach and enter a nearby space station before her oxygen ran out.


By Gene Gonzales

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

'Over the Fence' is silent near-perfection!

Over the Fence (1917)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, Harry Pollard, and Bud Jamison
Directors: Harold Lloyd and J. Farrell MacDonald
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

When his coworker (Pollard) sneakily grabs both his tickets and date (Daniels) to the ballgame, Harold (Lloyd) ends up on the field and playing for the home team after he is mistaken for a late-arriving star player.

"Over the Fence" absolutely hilarious, both as a romantic comedy and a sports comedy. It is perfectly paced--there is literally not a second wasted in the film--and every joke and gag lands solidly. With this film, I think I finally see why Harold Lloyd has gained the reputation of portraying an Everyman sort of character in his films, as he doesn't go out of his way to be jerk, and I think everyone who's been on a date that goes sideways can relate to some of the goin-ons here. (I've seen a couple references that imply the version I watched is a shortened one. I don't know how accurate those comments are, but if I did view an edited version of the film, I want to praise the editor as strongly as the creators and actors in the original film.)

Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, and Harry Pollard are all great in the film, with Lloyd and Daniels giving especially good performances. Daniels, once again, impressed me with her range of acting ability. She seems to have been able to play any type of female character the script called for, unlike her male co-stars which mostly seemed to have a type that they stuck to.

That last statement above isn't entirely fair to Harold Lloyd. I have mentioned previously that there are a number of these Lloyd/Daniels/Pollard shorts that I haven't bothered writing about, because I so disliked the main character as portrayed by Lloyd. Reportedly, with this film, Lloyd reinvented his screen persona, leaving behind the rotten troublemaker that has so annoyed me and moving toward a more sympathetic figure. Looking back, I can see the change--the films I couldn't stand tend to be ones where he hasn't worn glasses but instead slightly exaggerated make-up and odd clothes, while the ones that I like he is wearing glasses. That was Lloyd's signal to himself and his audience that his screen character was not different.

The only, minor complaint I have with "Over the Fence" is that Harry Pollard is in exaggerated, clownish make-up. I realize that this film marks a transition from the earlier films, but it seems an odd choice that Pollard was the only character in the film with such clownish make-up on. It could also be that in the century that has passed since this film was released has made a significance to Pollard's exaggerated make-up fade to the point where I just don't understand it.

"Over the Fence" is just five minutes long, and I strongly encourage you to take the time to check it out; it could just be the most entertaining minutes of your day. I have even made it easy for you, by embedding it below--via YouTube and the Christopher Bird Collection.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The OTHER 'The Maltese Falcon' film adaptation

The Maltese Falcon (1931) (aka "Dangerous Female" and "Woman of the World")
Starring: Ricardo Cortez, Bebe Daniels, Otto Matieson, Dudley Digges, Uma Merkel, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Thelma Todd
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After his partner is murdered, private detective Sam Spade (Cortez) finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into involvement with a growing assortment of odd characters, each of whom may be the murderer, as they chase each other in search of the elusive treasure known as the Maltese Falcon.

Most film buffs have at least heard of the 1941 film "The Maltese Falcon" with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre, but few know that it's a remake of this 1931 picture of the same name, and even fewer have seen the original. (I admit to not knowing of the existence of the 1931 version until it showed up on my radar, due to my current Year of the Hot Toddy project, since Thelma Todd has a small role in it.)

This review draws on my experience with both films. If you haven't see the 1941 version, I recommend holding off until you've seen this one. The later adaptation is the superior film, but the 1931 version has its strengths as well. It pales a little in comparison to what is an undisputed masterpiece, but it has some strengths that the other film couldn't possess.

Since both films adapt the same novels, the story lines are mostly the same, as are the characters and their relationships to each other. The films also share the similarity that the characters that come in and out of the story are more fun to try to puzzle out than the intersecting mysteries of murder and treasure hunt.

One very important difference between the films is the nature of the main character, Sam Spade. In the 1941 version, Spade is a dour, snarling man that is being worn down by the world, but in the this one, Spade smiles his way through even the most deadly of encounters, having fun laughing at danger while chasing after everyone with a nice pair of breasts. Where the later picture is film-noirish in its tone, the 1931 version hews closer to the pulp fiction stories in the magazines of the time; they were stories about tough people doing nasty things, but jokes were being cracked and lots of fun was had along the way. The two Sam Spades are the main source of these differences.

While Ricardo Cortez is the undisputed star of the film, I think Bebe Daniels (who by the time this film was made had already spent nearly two decades in front of film cameras, enjoying a career that survived not only the transition from child to adult star but also the technological leap from silent to sound films) deserved the top billing she has in this picture. She's a far more effective "mystery woman" than Mary Astor, in no small part due to the fact that there's no dancing around the fact that she uses sex and her good looks as lethal weapons. After having watched Daniels in a number of silent movies she made as a teenager--where she played everything from a loyal girlfriend, to a con-artist, to a girl coyly as much on the make as the film's male lead--it was interesting to see her play a character who is apparently rotten through and through. On many levels, the more overt approach this film has to Sam Spade's womanizing and the sexuality of the film's femme fatale makes the characters more interesting and a little deeper.

For example, the affair that Spade is having with Ida Archer, the wife of his murdered partner, is not just hinted at here; it's out in the open, and it's used more effectively as a plot point and as a looking into the nature of the characters than in the 1941 version. At one point, Spade treats Ida Archer extremely coldly, given the affair, and depending on how you choose to interpret that in the context of when he's doing it, it shows that there's a truly vile human being hiding behind that broad smile, or Spade is just as devious  and calculating as the crooks he is trying to deal with throughout the picture. (Personally, I like to think it's the latter, a notion I'll come back to below.)

I found this to be a very entertaining little movie when taken on its own terms. When compared to the 1941 version, the supporting cast can't hold a candle to their counterparts, with the exception of Effie the Secretary; I really enjoyed Uma Merkel. Thelma Todd is more memorable than the Ida Archer in the 1941 version, but that's more because her relationship to Spade is more blatant than anything she does as actress here. Nonetheless, knowing that Todd was under contract to Hal Roach when this film was made, and busy appearing in short films opposite Charley Chase as well as gearing up to headline her series of comedies, I can't help but imagine that she was "lent to Warner Bros. for an afternoon of shooting, with the intent of boosting her resume and lifting her profile. In the end, Todd did her usual excellent job, but it really isn't much of a part.

One part of the film that I initially didn't like, but which grew on me as I thought about it, was the final scenes between Spade and the "dangerous female", Wonderly. My initial reaction to the film's wrap-up was that it was another one of those Hollywood insta-romances that have spoiled so many otherwise good movies for me... but then it dawned on me that there was more to the scenes than that. It struck me that those closing interactions between the two characters were a redemption of sorts--their sexual fling had reawakened some of the humanity that they had buried deep within themselves, and despite their natures, they had actually connected on a real and emotional level. Ultimately, it was too late for either character to derive any happiness from this realization, as the many lies and deceptions they engaged obscured their emotions even from themselves. (Cortez's expression when the truth about where he and Wonderly truly stand with one another is probably the best bit of acting he does in the entire film.)

You can get 1931 version "The Maltese Falcon" along with the 1934 spoof, "Satan Met a Lady", the 1941 version, and some great bonus features in the two-disc set The Matese Falcon: Special Edition. It's a great value, and I think it's a set any lover of classic mystery movies will enjoy.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Princesses of Mars, Part 30

It's National Pet Month, and here are some portraits of Martian Princesses with their favorite pets.

By Mike Hoffman
By William Stout
By Thomas Yates
By Frank Frazetta

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