Friday, August 30, 2019

'Three Chumps Ahead' is lots of fun

Three Chumps Ahead (1934)
Starring: Patsy Kelly, Thelma Todd, Eddie Phillips, Benny Baker, and Frank Moran
Director: Gus Mein
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Thelma (Todd) is being pursued by a man (Phillips) she believes to be rich, but her roommate Patsy (Kelly) thinks he may be too good to be true. Although Thelma's suitor tries to pawn Patsy off on his brother (Baker), it merely gives Patty a chance to confirm her suspicions... at which point Patsy goes from trying to break up the happy couple to taking advantage the man's deception while exposing him.

"Three Chumps Ahead" is one of the best short comedies starring Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly. It's a tightly scripted where every character is deftly and firmly established through both their actions and dialogue, every joke and gag grows organically from the story, and there isn't a wasted moment or shaky performance to be found. This is a film where each cast member gets to play to their strengths as performers, and where they have good material to work with. Even better, the film has an ending I didn't see coming until its set-up was unfolding (and which I won't comment on, because I'll ruin one of the best parts of the film).

Unlike many of the Thelma Todd-starring shorts (where she first co-starred with ZaSu Pitts and then later Kelly), its female main characters remain the focus of the story and the action. Todd and Kelly even have roughly the same amount of screen-time and importance to the story, with Kelly edging out Todd slightly, because her character is more aggressive and contributes more to moving the story forward. Even better, each actress has material to work with that suits their styles, with Kelly being brash without being so obnoxious or dull-witted that she becomes annoying; Todd getting to be elegant even while doing a prat-fall and flouncing around in response to Kelly's antics.

The only complaints I have with the film boil down to quibbles really, and they did next to nothing to impact the entertainment value of the film.

First, as much as I appreciate the speed with which this film moves, it might move a little too fast at one point: Although it turns out that Patsy had good cause to be suspicious of Thelma's boyfriend, it would have been nice if there had been a little clear evidence that she could have seized on before meeting his brother and, literally, beating the truth out of him. As things stand, Patsy comes across just a little too petty when she appears to be trying to sabotage Thelma's date out of jealousy, or possibly resentment over being treated like a servant. That said, Thelma wouldn't have been treating like a servant if she hadn't been disruptive, so there's a bit of a feedback loop going on.

Second, there's a cramped, impoverished feeling that permeates this film that I haven't noticed in previous installments in this series. The apartment and restaurant sets feel so claustrophobic that the end result reminded me of some of the lower-budget Poverty Row films I've watched over the years. I know part of this is by design--Todd and Kelly's characters are presented as working class, and Todd's beau can't afford to take her anywhere but a hole-in-the-wall establishment--but I wonder if this was also a reflection of budget concerns. I have read that these films were not earning the level of money that producer Hal Roach was hoping for, so maybe the team making them was receiving less money to work with as well? I'll have to see what develops as I keep watching. (I will be reviewing one Thelma Todd vehicle every week through the end of 2019, including several more of the ones she made with Patsy Kelly.)

Finally, Thelma Todd keeps her clothes on. While I never mind seeing an attractive woman in very little, it's usually twice as fun when it's Todd who's stripping down, because of the way she usually manages to still retain an air of elegance and dignity. Plus, some of her funniest bits have been performed in a slip or dressing gown. (I can't be too unhappy that Todd remains fully clothed, as there really isn't an excuse for it anywhere in the story, and this film is so strong because it's driven by the story rather than being a cobbled-together series of gags as some of them are. Of course, Them could also be remaining fully clothed, because by the time this film was released in 1934, the Hays Production Code was in full effect, and filmmakers had to be more careful with the raciness.)

"Three Chumps Ahead" is one of the short films included in Complete Hal Roach Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly three-disc DVD collection. It's also one of the films that will make you feel the set is worth your time and money.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Princesses of Mars: Part 32

By Gary Martin

Once upon a time, they tried putting the Martian Princesses in chains...

By Walter Giovanni

... but they didn't live long enough to learn that the Princesses of Mars are always fighting and free!

By Bernard Diego
By Jay Ancleto 
By Phil Noto

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

'The Maze': Fine gothic tale with a weak ending

The Maze (1953)
Starring: Veronica Hurst. Richard Carlson, Katherine Emery, Michael Pate, Robin Hughes, John Dodsworth, Hillary Brooke, Lilian Bond, and Stanley Fraser
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Kitty (Hurst) and her Aunt Edith (Emery) travel to Scotland to learn why Kitty's fiance, Gerald (Carlson) abruptly cancelled the wedding plans after inheriting his family estate and title.

Although "The Maze" was made and released in the early 1950s, it has an aura about it that feels like a horror film from Warner Bros. or Universal from the 1930s. It's soaked in a gothic sensibility from beginning to end, and it presents a nice, serious-minded spin on the "Old Dark House" genre to the degree that it's almost surprising the filmmakers pulled it off as successfully as they did.

Another key to this film's success is that it embraces the full spectrum of gothic tropes, including that of a young woman who, driven by love, ends up uncovering dark secrets. While Kitty's fiance is not a dark, brooding man at the beginning of the film, he rapidly turns into one once he is ensconced in his ancestral home of Craven Castle. Young Kitty and her aunt Edith (however reluctantly the latter is drawn into the shadows) spend the majority of the movie trying to outsmart the servants in the creepy castle and to force its secrets into the light--all in the service of saving Gerald from whatever mysterious fate he has apparently surrendered himself to. The film hits almost every gothic note, except that Kitty never gets to run down corridors in a filmy nightgown (even if she does carry a candle abound quite a bit). 

Kitty's quest to uncover the mystery of Craven Castle, and what has seemingly aged Gerald a decade or more in the space of a few weeks, is one that I found to be engaging. It became even moreso when it became clear that there indeed was some sort of monster creeping around the castle at night--and that there might well be some solid justification for why visitors were locked in their rooms at night. My curiosity became even stronger when the level headed Aunt Edith came face-to-face with the creature (after devising a way to not get locked in her room), but whatever she saw was alien and strange that her mind could not process whatever it was that she saw. This encounter thickened the atmosphere of gothic horror in film by adding a Lovecraftian touch to the proceedings. 

The film is further buoyed by strong performances by all cast members. Gerald's two creepy man servants (Stanley Fraser and Michael Pate) give the sense of being equally willing to keep the unwelcome guests at Craven Castle under control until they leave, or to kill them if they prove to be too much trouble. Meanwhile, Veronica Hurst, the film's real star despite Richard Carlson's top billing, gives an excellent performance as a strong-willed young woman who wants to redeem and recover the virile, kind and personable man viewers met during the film's first few minutes, or at least discover what caused him to change into a prematurely aged, bitter and loveless hermit. 

Speaking of Richard Carlson--the warmth with which he portrays Gerald McTeam in the early scenes of the film go a long way to making viewers invested in Kitty's success. The only flaw in Carlson's performance is that his transformation from Kitty's perfect husband-to-be into the haunted lord of a creepy castle in the Scottish highlands isn't sharp enough--there needed to be more menace in his performance during the middle part of the film. It would have made his transformation more shocking, and it would have made the scenes where Gerald is rejecting Kitty's pleas for him to let her help, as well as his interactions with old friends (whom Kitty contrives to get to the castle in hopes of snapping him out of whatever has gotten hold of him) more dramatic and moving. (A few years later, Carlson would give an amazing performance as a truly vile character in "Tormented"; if he could have tapped into a little of that for this role, he would have been amazing instead of merely good.

Carlson's good-but-not-perfect performance wasn't what made me knock this film down from a High Eight to a Low Seven on my Ten-Star rating scale. As strong as this film is for most of its running time, it starts to sputter toward the end, as Kitty and Aunt Edith follow Gerald, his servants, and some thing into the film's titular maze.

First, there's a ridiculous bit where Gerald & Company are escorting the thing through the castle, but are hiding it behind a sheet for no reason other than to keep it from the view of the film's audience. Secondly, the ladies' attempt to find their way to its center (where strange splashing sounds can be heard) starts to drag quickly, and soon becomes boring. The moment where they uncover the horror that the men of Craven Castle were trying to hide is extremely well done, as is the dramatic and fast-moving aftermath... but this is ultimately squandered during the film's denouement where the filmmakers went a little too far in capturing that old-time horror movie feel: Instead of letting Craven Castle's secret be something supernatural, we're treated to some pseudo-scientific, weak sci-fi babble when "curse" would have been far more effective. (In fairness, though, I am led to understand that the film is true to the novel upon which the script was based in this sense... but a bad ending is a bad ending.)

If you like gothic horror tales, as well as horror movies from the 1930s, I think you'll enjoy this film, despite the ending not being what it could have been.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Musical Monday: Runnin

If you like electronic music with an ethereal, hypnotic feel, I think you'll find "Runnin" a nice song to get your week underway with. The song is by Betical, which is a duo that consists of French brothers Max and Martin Hoet. They also directed the video for this song. (I have no idea who Tailor is; feel free to educate me, oh Denizens of the Internet.)

"Runnin" and its video were first released in June of 2019. It's my first encounter with Betical, and, while I like the visuals of this video more than I do the song, there's enough interesting here that I will be seeking out more of their music. Other suitable videos may also find their way onto Shades of Gray on future Musical Mondays.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

'Asleep in the Feet' is the Todd/Pitts Team at its Best

Asleep in the Feet (1933)
Starring: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, Anita Garvin, Eddie Dunn, Billy Gilbert, and Nelson McDowell
Director: Gus Meins
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Thelma and ZaSu (Todd and Pitts) moonlight as taxi dancers to raise money for a neighbor's back rent.

"Asleep in the Feet" ranks among the films that Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts made together. It's a tightly plotted, smoothly directed film where the humor grows organically out of the story and its characters, and each joke and gag is carefully set up and each and every set-up has a satisfying payoff. The supporting actors are also perfectly cast, with Eddie Dunn as an obnoxious sailor and Nelson McDowell as a moral crusader being particularly good in their parts.

More recently, I've been watching the films that paired Todd with Patsy Kelly, and I reminded of the on-screen chemistry that Todd and Pitts shared. It's something that is lacking between Todd and Kelly, and it's led me to wonder why their characters are even friends. That is never something that one wonders about with the Todd and Pitts characters; they seem like they are good, kindhearted people, and utterly loyal to each other. There's a warmth and affection here that's mostly lacking in the ones that team Todd with Kelly. From what I've seen of those so far, I also find it hard to believe that those characters would take on extra work to prevent a neighbor from being evicted, where it seems completely in keeping with the main characters in the Todd/Pitts films. The laugh and the hug the characters share at the end of the film is also one of the most heartwarming moments I think I've ever seen in a Hal Roach-produced comedy.

Another interesting aspect of this film is the window it gives us into the past. We get to see what life was like for independent, working-class, single women during the Depression Era, and it's interesting how much things have (and haven't) changed since then.

"Asleep in the Feet" is included on a two-disc set that contains all of the short films that Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts made together

Friday, August 23, 2019

Happy birthday, Barbara Eden!

Barbara Eden, most famous for her starring role on the fantasy sit-com "I Dream of Jeannie", turns 88 today. Here are a few photos of her from the 1960s in celebration.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Buster Keaton delivers in 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.'

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Tom McGuire, and Marion Byron
Director: Charles Reisner
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Although a disappointment to his gruff, riverboat captain father (Torrence), effete college boy William Canfield, Jr. (Keaton) tries his best to impress him. It seems that it may be impossible when it turns out that William Jr.'s girlfriend, Kitty (Byron) happens to be the daughter of his father's hated rival (McGuire).

"Steamboat Bill Jr.", like the majority of the films that Buster Keaton co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in during the 1920s, was an elaborate affair with costly sets and expensive special effects around and within which Keaton performed his hilarious stunt work. Unfortunately, it was a box office failure of such a magnitude that it was the final film Keaton would make as an independent filmmaker, and he would spend the rest of his career acting in and writing for projects controlled mostly by others.

I don't know what made audiences ignore this film 90 years ago, because I found it to be well-paced, well-acted, and very funny. It follows the structure of almost all of Keaton's independent productions I've seen--the first part of the film sets up the story and the conflicts while delivering some funny character moments, and the second part delivers a stream of sight gags and impressive stunts, with Keaton risking life and limb for our entertainment. "Steamboat Bill Jr." does this, and more. Although Keaton does return to a variation of a stunt he did in his very first solo effort ("One Week"), the performance here is much more elaborate and impressive, and the context so different, that I think I only people like me who are watching for things to comment on would even notice.

The film's commercial failure is unfortunate not only because it didn't deserve such neglect by viewers, but also because it may tempt potential modern viewers to think it's not as good as many of Keaton's other silent films. And they'd be wrong.

"Steamboat Bill Jr." holds up nicely. The simple story of a father whose disappointed in his son, and the son who wants to impress and be accepted by him despite it all, is one that works as well today as it did back then. The same is true of the film's climax--during which a small town get demolished by a storm while Keaton's character runs around dodging falling buildings--due to all the chatter about Climate Change and how severe weather is going to kill us all. Heck, if there's any reason to warn a modern viewer away from this film, it's the same one that applies to all silent pictures: They require audiences to devote their full attention to what's unfolding on screen, because there's no stretches of dialogue during which they can "multi-task".

The only serious complaint I have about "Steamboat Bill Jr." is that there's a sequence where Bill Jr. is trying to break his father out of jail that feels like it should have been its own two-reeler. While it's  got some funny gags in it, helps deepen the bond between the two characters, and it sets up one of the more dramatic events of the climax, I still would have liked to see more action on the riverboats, or maybe even additional scenes involving Keaton, Torrence, and Byron. (In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Byron, period. I liked her with Keaton almost as much as I have Sybil Seely, and far more than Virginia Fox.) That jail digression is the only reason I'm not giving this one a Nine of Ten rating.

Trivia: "Steamboat Bill. Jr." was the screen debut of Marion Byron. She was 17, and had already been performing as a chorus girl in music productions throughout the Los Angeles area.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Musical Monday: Jazz Fever

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

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

'Babes in the Goods' doesn't quite deliver

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

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

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

The film is at its funniest when Arthur Housman is doing his drunk routine, especially when reacting to poor Thelma and Patsy in the window (with the bit where he sees Thelma undress in silhouette and then interact with a mannequin being the peak).

"Babes in the Goods" is one of the short films included in the Complete Hal Roach Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly DVD collection.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Ladies of 'Hips, Hips, Horray!'

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Most exciting portrayal of space travel ever?

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Watch Singapore Sue Sing to the Sailors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

In Memory of Robin Williams

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 9, 2019

'Sinners in Paradise' should be left there

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

'Picking Peaches' isn't the Pits

Picking Peaches (1924)
Starring: Harry Langdon, Alberta Vaughn, Ethel Teare, Dot Farley, Vernon Dent, and Kewpie Morgan
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When the wife (Vaughn) of a philandering shoe salesman (Langdon) enters a beach-side beauty contest to show him up, and wins, his jealousy puts him on a path to a well-deserved fate.

Any readers around my age surely remembers the Fox series "Married With Children", which featured a bitter shoe salesman, Al Bundy, who was married to a hot wife, Peggy. As soon as the lead character's profession was established, and it was shown that he had a testy relationship with his wife (who, like Peggy Bundy, is quite attractive), I immediately thought of Al Bundy. Unlike Al, however, who ultimately always remained faithful to his wife, the cad portrayed by Harry Langdon is anything but faithful to his. Not only goes he cheat on her, but he's such a horndog that one of his wife's friends thinks she can flirt her way into convincing him to buy the wife a new hat.
Aside from the generally unlikeable nature of Harry Langdon's character--not to mention his taste in women; the lady he cheats on his wife with isn't nearly as pretty nor as personable as she is--and a single completely out-of-place and ill-executed stunt involving a ladder, "Picking Peaches" is a lot fun.

One of the fun aspects of the film is how animation is integrated into the live action, sometimes subtly, sometimes very obviously, but always to great humorous effect. (I won't go into specifics for risk of ruining a couple of the gags, but the preview for the embedded copy of "Picking Peaches" below shows one of the mixed bits of animations and live action.)

Of course, many people might also find the film appealing for the same reason those "beach party" movies are appealing--it's got plenty of beautiful women in tight little outfits. Here, those outfits are one-piece bathing suits rather than bikinis but the same principle applies. I have seen references to the "bathing beauties" in Max Sennett pictures (the great Sybil Seely was one, for example), but I hadn't imagined how integral they might be to the plots of the films in which they appeared, nor how funny the gags they performed would be. While the girls in their bathing suits are great eye candy, this film would be far less funny if they weren't in it, not just because of the trouble the main character gets into by playing around with them, but also because of the gags during the bathing suit and high-dive competition that he attends.

One thing that makes this film noteworthy is that it was Harry Langdon's very first film appearance... and he went straight from starring on the stage to starring on the screen. The character he plays here is nothing like the white-faced, simple-minded clown that would become his signature once he teamed up with Frank Capra, but it's still clear to see why he is considered one of the great comedians of the silent era. (Even if you're familiar with Langdon's work and know he's not usually your cup of tea, "Picking Peaches" might still be worth your while to check out.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Musical Monday with Wheeler Walker, Jr.

Pot stores are popping up all over. Country/western sensation Wheeler Walker Jr. couldn't be happier, because, well, as he himself says in this song, he likes smoking pot a lot. (Friendly warning: Don't play this song at work, or around the hysterically sensitive.)

(Yeah... I probably should have saved this post until some time in April of 2020 [4/20]...)

Friday, August 2, 2019

'Air Fright' has comedic highs and lows, but mostly stays aloft

Air Fright (1933)
Starring: Patsy Kelly, Thelma Todd, Wilfred Lucas, Don Barclay, and Billy Bletcher
Director: Gus Meins
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Thelma (Todd) gets her brash girlfriend, Patsy (Kelly), a job as an air hostess at the same company she works for. Their first assignment together is on a plane where an experimental parachute emergency system is to be tested. It perhaps goes without saying, but things go wrong...

"Air Fright" was the third film that Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly made together, and it was the best up to this point. The script is the strongest yet, the humor works for the most part, Patsy Kelly's character is more hapless and a fish-out-of-water than annoying and stupid (as she was in "Beauty and the Bus"). There was even some comedic action and suspense mixed in when our heroines end up dangling from the airplane in a tangled parachute.

Although an improvement on the previous films featuring Todd and Kelly, when things didn't work here, they really didn't work. Kelly delivers a number of one-liners that flop to the ground harder than someone jumping from a plane without a parachute, and, once again, the film's pacing is off to the point where the ending feels like the last few minutes of the picture may be missing.

It should be noted that this is basically Patsy Kelly's picture. Todd basically plays the straight man while she fires off jokes and causes chaos; it's said that Hal Roach was shooting for a Laurel & Hardy vibe, but with women when it came to these pictures, but here Todd & Kelly come off like a Abbott & Costello-type team... but without Todd being the sort of jerk toward Kelly that Abbott so often was to Costello in their pictures. I point this out, because, although I enjoyed Kelly in the film, I understand that she has her detractors. Those who can't stand Kelly, but who still want to enjoy Todd--who is once again fun to watch, even if she doesn't get to stretch her comedic muscles much--may want to save this film until they have nothing else to watch.

"Air Fright" is one of 21 short films that Todd and Kelly made together, and it can be found included in the three DVD set The Complete Hal Roach Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly Collection.

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