Thursday, October 31, 2019

Picture Perfect Halloween with Vampirella

Vampirella has made a new friend, and she's bringing him with her to a Halloween party near you!

By Art Adams

Have a Silly (Symphony) Halloween!

Enjoy this classic cartoon from the early years of Walt Disney! (Hells Bells was first released in 1929).

 And if these evil cultists knew how goofy Hell really is, I doubt they'd bother with this Halloween summoning ritual. (Art by the great John Buscema.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

'The Mad Ghoul' is worth knowing

The Mad Ghoul (1943)
Starring: George Zucco, David Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, Turhan Bey, and Robert Armstrong
Director: James Hogan
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

College chemistry professor Alfred Morris (Zucco) re-discovers a formula for a gas that ancient Central Americans used turn people into pseudo-living zombies, as well as a means for reversing the transformation. He uses his assistant, Ted (Bruce), as an unwitting human test subject while trying to put the moves on Ted's opera-singing fiance (Ankers)... but when the antidote for the gas turns out to only be temporary, Morris's life and Ted's psuedo-undeath become a lot more complicated.

"The Mad Ghoul" is a horror film from Universal Pictures--the studio that bought the world "The Mummy", "Dracula", and "Frankenstein"--that sounds like a film from Monogram or PRC, with its mad scientist with an even madder scheme, a young couple being threatened by evil, and a crusading reporter who is going to stop the monster the police have been unable to catch.

What the writers and director does with those elements are a great change of, though: The crusading reporter ends up, the young couple's romance is revealed to have been over even before the film starts, and the mad doctor's mad scheme keeps getting more insane, first because he was cocky and had to cover up a failed experiment and then because he wanted to remove all rivals for the woman with whom he believes he shares a mutual attraction. (Some of my favorite parts of the film is when George Zucco and Evelyn Ankers' characters are talking past each other; Zucco thinks they are expressing their love for each other while Ankers thinks she's just unloading her sorrows to a sympathetic ear. These scenes feature some nice acting and even better writing, because they perfectly communicate the notion that Zucco's character later expresses, after he realizes he was mistaken: "Sometimes we see what we want to see.")

The cast of "The Mad Ghoul" all provide good performances. Zucco is in particularly fine form, playing the crazed heavy he specialized in but with a tiny bit of nuances thrown in. Robert Armstrong is also fun as the "I'm smarter than the cops" newsman who populates films of this type, and while I saw his brutal end coming before it actually happened, I was a little sad to see him go. Meanwhile, Ankers and Bey play the kinds of characters they portrayed in many other films, and they do it with their usual skill. Finally, David Bruce, in one of his few starring roles, is good as what initially comes across as the standard, fairly bland romantic lead, but becomes an increasingly interesting and nuanced character as the film unfolds.

Picture Perfect Vampirella

Halloween is almost here, and so is Vampirella... whether you are ready or not!

By Jason Robinson

Monday, October 28, 2019

Early urban fantasy film is still lots of fun

The "?" Motorist (1906)
Starring: Anonymous
Director: Walter R. Booth
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Then there was that time Harry Potter's great-grandparents took their newly enchanted automobile for a spin in Muggles territory...

At the dawn of the British film industry, there was basically only one person who was making sci-fi/fantasy movies... and that was Walter R. Booth. He made dozens of wild short films that were full of fantastic concepts, special effects, and characters speeding around in cars and aircraft, or, in the case of this film, cars that become aircraft.

In "The '?' Motorist", a couple out for a drive have a very literal run-in with a police officer. While attempting to escape pursuit, they drive their magical car up the side of a building, onto the clouds over the city, and... well, to more distant locales. It's a special-effects laden romp that is still lots of fun and surprising in its weirdness even though its more than 110 years since it was first released. While some of the effects are weak by modern standards (and may even have disappointed audiences in the day), it barely matters because of how extremely whacky the action is. The only real flaw in the film is a bizarre editing choice where a crash seems to happen twice, or scenes take place in a poorly thought-out order, but that could just as easily be an artifact of bad restoration as incompetent choices on the part of Booth. It's hard to tell with something this old.

"The '?' Motorist" is only one of a small handful of Booth's films that are known to survive to present day. I enjoyed this one so much that I will have to seek out the other remaining pictures and post about them here. In the meantime, I want to share my joy of discovery with all you, via YouTube, by embedding the complete film below. I hope you find Booth's film as entertaining as I did--for me, it was three minutes of pure fun!

Musical Monday with Rod Serling

(Just a little something to get you warmed up for the Big Night of Tricks and Treats.)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

'Haunted Spooks' is among Lloyd's best

Haunted Spooks (1920)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Ernest Morrison, Blue Washington, Marie Benson, and Wallace Howe
Directors: Alf Goulding and Hal Roach
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

After she inherits the entirety of her uncle's estate Mildred Hillary (Davis), is swiftly married to a young man with nothing to lose (Lloyd), because the will states she must live in the main house with her husband for a year or everything goes to her other uncle (Howe). Meanwhile, said other uncle comes up with a scheme to scare the newlyweds off the property by making them think the house is haunted.

I sat down to watch "Haunted Spooks" with some trepidation--given its age and its title, I feared I may be in for a movie that hadn't aged well. Turns out, my fears were unfounded. While the film does feature "superstitious negroes", they are no more or less rediculous than the white characters who run around the old house while panicking after being confronted by the fake ghosts. Further, the black butler (played by Blue Washington) gets to redeem himself by throwing the greedy hoaxers by throwing them out of the house as the movie is coming to an end (come on, that's not a spoiler... does anyone watching this film a century later really think there was ever any chance the bad guys would be successful?) while our skeptic hero, Harold Lloyd, has one last moment of panic when it appears the house really might be haunted after all.

As for the rest of the movie, everything flows smoothly, and while the team here comes dangerously close to making the same mistakes that sank "Captain Kidd's Kids" (1919). Like "Captain Kidd's Kids", this film takes a long time getting to the spooks we're promised in the title and on the poster; the film is more than half over before Harold and his new bride arrive at the supposedly haunted house. However, unlike "Captain Kidd's Kids", the long journey to the pay-off is one that we share with likable and rediculous characters, so it's a fun ride all the way. (In the other film, there was little to nothing to like about the lead characters.)

The ending to this film is also one of the most satisfying of any of the ones to a Harold Lloyd film I've seen so far. Often, even when it's a generally happy ending for most of the characters in the film, they've involved Harold running for the hills to escape disaster, or him going off to wallow in self-pitiying misery. Here, we get a happy ending all around (except for those dastardly relatives who were trying to steal Mildred's inheritence), and the writers even get in one final joke that I found to be among the funniest in the whole picture.

There's an excellent version of "Haunted Spooks" that can be watched on YouTube. There are a few missing frames here and there, but the image is constently clear and the music isn't half-bad. I've embedded it below, so you can take a few minutes out of your day to enjoy yourself right now! (I should note that fans of romances and Scooby-Doo cartoons will probably like this alot: The first half of the film is a highly amusing send-up of common gothic romance tropes while the second half could well be a Scooby-Doo plotline.)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

'Maids in Hollywood' is a fun Todd/Kelly vehicle

Maid in Hollywood (1934)
Starring: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, Eddie Foy Jr., Alphonse Martell, Billy Gilbert, and Constance Bergen
Director: Guy Meins
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

After failing to make it as actress, Thelma (Todd) is on the verge of leaving Hollywood forever when her friend Patsy (Kelly) manages to manipulate circumstances so her friend has one more screen-test... and one final shot at stardom.

I have observed several times that Thelma Todd managed to somehow project poise and grace even when in the most ridiculous and embarrassing circumstances. That is not the case in "Maid in Hollywood." Here, she looks every bit as frazzled as someone whose dream is dying, and becomes every bit as disheveled as you would assume someone would become in the situations she ends up in during the picture. And that is a nice change, because it adds a slightly different flavor to Todd's character in this film.

What's also nice is that one can feel a warmth in the friendship between Todd's and Kelly's characters that's missing in some of their films. Their friendship seems deep enough that it's believable that Kelly goes to the lengths she does to help Todd be successful in achieving her dream. I wonder if that might not be a sign that perhaps this script was originally written for Todd and her previous co-star in this series, ZaSu Pitts? The relationship between those two characters never had the nasty edge that sometimes creeps into the Todd/Kelly pictures, so that could explain the different tone here. (And this is despite Kelly being as loud and brash and as stupidly aggressive as she is in many of these pictures; in other films, this is one of the reasons I felt it hard to believe Todd and Kelly's characters were friends, but here, it works.)

Overall, the script for "Maid in Hollywood" is among the better ones in the Todd headlined comedies, in that it presents a full story with a beginning, middle, end, and even a denouement. This is particularly noteworthy to me, because it feels like a sequel to "One Track Minds" (1933) where Todd's character was traveling to Hollywood with hopes of becoming a movie star, and "One Track Minds" had one of the worst scripts in the series.

The film is made even better by the fact that it sports a talented cast that elevate the good material they are working with excellent performances. The reason I didn't give it a Nine of Ten rating is because much of the physical comedy that Patsy Kelly engages in feels a bit rough and under-rehearsed--it's clunky and repetitive, especially her repeated run-ins with the sound equipment on the film set.

"Maid in Hollywood" is an excellent little comedy, and it is one of several that make the three-disc collection of all of the films Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly made together worth your while.

Friday, October 25, 2019

'Getting Acquainted' is a film worth seeing

Getting Aquainted (aka "A Fair Exchange") (1914)
Starring: Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplin, Phyllis Allen, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy, and Glen Cavender
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A day in the park turns chaotic when husbands (Chaplin and Swain) hit on each other's wives (Normand and Allen) and then up being chased by an increasingly irate police officer (Kennedy).

"Getting Acquainted" is a comedy of manners--mostly bad manners--with a healthy helping of slapstick thrown in. The comedy grows in equal amounts from the bad behavior of the husbands, the reactions of their wives, the threat to the husbands when the wives meet each other, and the various beatings doled out by the cop, a random guy (whose girlfriend the husbands also hit on), and even the wives. There's also some slight humor in the fact that physically you'd think Chaplin's character would be Normand's husband, while Allen and Swain's characters seem like they'd a better match, too.

This film may also be of historical interest to Chaplin fans, as it features one of the earliest appearances of his "Little Tramp" character--at least as far as the costume goes, since I don't think I've ever seen Chaplin's signature character being quite this much of a caddish horndog in any other films. Meanwhile, it's also easy to see why Normand was such a big star in her day; she all but leaps off the screen she has so much presence. It's also helpful that she keeps the Cuteness Meter pegged at Maximum in every scene.

You can get acquainted with "Getting Acquainted right here in this post, because the film is embedded below, via YouTube. Take a few minutes and watch it right now!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Picture Perfect Vampirella and Dejah Thoris

Although October is Vampirella's month, she didn't the Princesses of Mars to feel left out, so she called up Dejah Thoris, the most famous of the princesses, and asked her stop by. But before they had a chance to discuss how entertain the visitors to Shades of Gray, they got wind of a scheme by the Great Old Ones to destroy all Halloween candy on Earth! That called for a team-up and lots of ass-kicking!

By Carlo Pagulyan

And with Halloween saved, they kicked back and relaxed...

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

'Return of the Ape Man' can be skipped

Return of the Ape Man (1944)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Frank Moran, Teala Loring (as Judith Gibson), Michael Ames, and Mary Currier
Director: Phil Rosen
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A mad scientist (Lugosi) manages to restore life to a caveman (Moran) who had been frozen in ice above the Arctic Circle for 20,000 years. He then performs a partial brain-transplant from an unwilling donor (Carradine) so that he can control and communicate with the pre-historic man. Things go about as well as you might expect...

"Return of the Ape Man" is such a supremely, disastrously goofy movie that it's easy to hate it. However, it's so fast-paced and the cast so pleasant that the true awfulness of the film fades isn't felt as much; unlike so many weak other B-movies, this one is lean and straight to the point. The closest we get to padding is some stock footage of a ship in the Arctic, and a little too much running to and fro during the movie's climax. (The climax is actually undermined by the fact that it's dragged out too long.)

Highlights of the film include Bela Lugosi's performance as the mad scientist. a role in which I think he would have been even better if a scene like the one in the publicity still (with Lugosi, Teala Loring, and Frank Moran) had actually taken place in the film. Another bit that I really liked was that the mad doctor's original plan was to put part of a lawyer's brain in the caveman--which would have probably made him even more monstrous! And speaking of the caveman... I got a chuckle out of the fact that, as part of a sequence intended to show that some of the memories of the donor of brain tissue still exist, the caveman goes to the home of John Carradine's character, plays the piano, and proceeds to murder his wife. I can only assume there were some serious problems in that relationship...

In the final analysis, "Return of the Ape Man" is probably a movie you can skip, unless you're on a quest to watch everything Bela Lugosi starred in, or to experience the Complete Works of Phil Rosen.  It would make an excellent addition to a Bad Movie Night, as it's silly but never boring. The fact that it is a solidly entertaining effort--if you're in the mood for this kind of movie--earned it a bump from a high Four-star rating to a low Five.

(By the way, despite its title, this film has nothing whatsoever to do with "The Ape Man", which Lugosi headlined in 1943 for the same studio.)

Monday, October 21, 2019

'Minnie the Moocher' is a freaky trip

Minnie the Moocher (1932)
Starring: The Voices of Cab Calloway and Mae Questal
Director: Dave Fleischer
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Betty (Questal) and her boyfriend Bimbo run away from home, but they are confronted by a ghostly walrus (Calloway) and other spooks when they seek shelter in what turns out to be haunted cave.

"Minnie the Moocher" is one of the greatest Betty Boop cartoons, and some even say it is the greatest. Me, I think that honor goes to "The Old Man of the Mountain", but there's no question that this is one jazzy, snazzy, kooky. spooky filmlette!

"Minnie the Moocher" was the first of three collaborations between producer Max Fleischer and pioneering jazz-man Cab Calloway, and, like the other two, it plays like a precusor to the sorts of music videos that were the hallmark of MTV during its glory days: Each is a tour-de-force of creativity and surreal weirdness, as well as vehicle for delivering excellent music to present fans and introducing it to new ones.

As for the cartoon itself, "Minnie the Moocher" will keep you engaged with both its storyline, its weird visuals, and the great songs, with the main attraction being the song of the title, but Betty singing about how distressed she is over her mean parents is fun as well. Like the other two cartoons that Calloway made with Fleisher, it's also a great deal of fun to see him turned into a cartoon creature that still moves in a very Calloway-esque fashion thanks to Rotoscope--which was invented by Fleischer animators and first used on these cartoons.

Why don't you take a few minutes to enjoy some great music and watch an even greater cartoon? Just click below to start the video!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Doggie and Death

We're going to break the usual jovial mood here at Shades of Gray with this very excellent comic strip by Jenny Jinya.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

'Treasure Blues' is lacking

Treasure Blues (1935)
Starring: Patsy Kelly, Thelma Todd, and Arthur Housman
Director: James Parrott
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Patsy (Kelly) inherits a diving suit and a map, so she takes Thelma (Todd) and a drunken sea captain-turned-plumber (Housman) onto the high seas to retrieve a sunken treasure.

"Treasure Blues" is one of weaker Thelma Todd/Patsy Kelly comedies. It's unfocused, not very funny, and, to make matters worse, it extends its good parts to the point where they become bad. This film is so weak that I thought "that's stupid" at some parts that had the live actors behave like they were in a cartoon universe--and I usually LOVE that sort of absurdist humor.

Unfortunately, as cartoonish action is employed in this film, it merely ruins what was up to that point a cute and fairly effective way to make it look like the characters were on the ocean floor--and this was after director James Parrott showed us, yet again, that he'd never seen a gag he couldn't drag out to the point where it went from amusing to lame.

The Four rating I'm giving this film may be a little on the generous side, but the cast members all perform admirably, especially given what they're working with. Todd is amusing, Kelly is charming (which is a rarity, since her onscreen persona in most of these pictures is like nails being dragged across a chalkboard), and Housman is amusing as his usual charicature of a drunk. It's a shame their efforts are taking place within such a poorly made film.

"Treasure Blues" is included with all of the films Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly made together in a single three-DVD collection.

Friday, October 18, 2019

'The Haunted House' is a treat full of tricks

The Haunted House (1921)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, and Mark Hamilton
Directors: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

On the run from the law, a bank teller (Keaton) who has been wrongfully accused of counterfeiting and trying to rob his place of employment, takes refuge in a house seemingly haunted by ghosts and demons.

"The Haunted House" is fun, funny, but most of all, good-natured and cute. Sure, it's the story of crooks (led by the towering Joe Roberts) who are using a small-town bank to exchange their counterfiet dollars for real ones; and sure, an innocent, if mishap-prone, bank teller (Buster Keaton) ends up blamed for their crimes; and, yeah, Roberts and his gang end up kidnapping the bank president's daughter (Virginia Fox)... but, despite all of that, this movie has a jovial air about it that makes it breeze by while you're watching. You even forget how fundamentally silly it is that Keaton, an adult, is scared and confused by men in devil and skeleton costumes, or by people wearing sheets pretending to be ghosts. (And as is my habit when reviewing these short films, I'm not going to go into too man details about the jokes and gags, because that would ruin the film for you. It's established up front that the hauntings and demonic infestations are

High points of the film include a series of gags involving paper currency, glue, and a botched bank robbery; Keaton's character first reacting with fear to the fake hauntings and then with marked sarcasm once he discovers it's just a bunch of guys in costumes; Keaton's interactions with the "devil" in the house; and Keaton's adventures in the Afterlife following a last-minute dramatic twist. There are also some really funny slapstick bits involving a trick staircase, and a very clever--and surprisinglyspecial effects sequence that is actually the film's single truly unnerving moment. (It's also completely out of place with everything else in the picture, but I suspect it was just too good a concept to not use.)

Aside from the out-of-place special effects gag (which is still excellent, just out of place), the only other real complaint I can mount about the film is that Virginia Fox's character needed a little more screen time and development. What we get is a very perfunctory "this is our damsel in distress" and not much else, and the film would have benefitted greatly if just a little more time had been devoted to her. These weaknesses still result in me rating the film a very high Eight on my Ten-star scale rather than a Nine.

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

Trivia: Buster Keaton liked the stair gags so much that he developed further routines and included a similar idea in "The Electric House" (1922).

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Halloween Costume Ideas!

Everyone's looking for good costume ideas this time of year, so we're sharing what some people will be wearing to the Shades of Gray Halloween Party this year. Maybe you'll be inspired!

Dusty Anderson says the classics are always "in", so she's dressing up like a black cat.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are going as a loving Puritan couple.

Meanwhile, Myrna Loy's going as Perry Mason.

Helen Bennett says she's going as a mobile hot-spot.

Finally, Thelma Todd will be the Pearl in the Oyster. If we weren't having the shindig at her place, this costume wouldn't be practical.

This year's party is sponsored in part by the Associated Shades of Hades.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Picture Perfect Vampirella

We've got a double-dose of Vampirella portraits to celebrate that we're halfway to Halloween!

First, here she is posing with Yorik. She knew him... in what sense, we don't know, and we're too afraid to ask.

By Paul Abrams

And here she is, once again, proving that any reports of her death are greatly exaggerated.

By SanJulian

Monday, October 14, 2019

Musical Monday: The Ghost of Stephen Foster

It's another October Monday, and here's another creepy cartoon tune to help you find the Halloween Spirit. This one is a music video that's a homage to early animated shorts from the Fleisher Studio.

The Ghost of Stephen Foster (1999)
Lead Animators/Directors:Raymond Persi and Matthew Nastuk
Music: Squirrel Nut Zippers (end credits music by Hack and Slash)
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Sunday, October 13, 2019

It's a sweet time on the Silvery Moon

From the studio that introduced the world to Felix the Cat comes a tale of sweet, sweet adventure...

Silvery Moon  (aka "Candy Town") (1933)
Starring: Unknown (but sounds like Mae Questel or Bonnie Poe)
Directors: Mannie Davis and John Foster
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A pair of cats are magically teleported to the Moon where they find a realm inhabited by friendly creatures where everything is edible and made from candy and ice cream!

"Silvery Moon" (or "Candy Town" as it is more widely known) is a cute, nonsensical, and nearly plotless cartoon. I kept expecting it to take a dark turn--as I am used to in the Betty Boop cartoons, which this both looks and sounds like, but none ever came. Instead, it remained goofy and as sweet as the candy in the world that cats are transported to.

I assume the target audience for this film in the 1930s was little kids, and I think it might be something they'd get a kick out of even today. However, it's fast-moving enough, and just surreal  enough that adults watching it with them will at least be mildly entertained. It could have benefitted immensely from being in color, however.)

You can see if I'm right or wrong in my estimation, right here in this very post since I've embedded the film below, via YouTube.

(With Halloween approaching, you should probably be thinking about candy, too. Are you ready for the onslaught of trick-or-treaters?)

Friday, October 11, 2019

'The Misses Stooge' has a few mild laughs

The Misses Stooge (1935)
Starring: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, Herman Bing, Rafael Storm, and Esther Howard
Director: James Parrott
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Patsy and Thelma (Kelly and Todd) are hired by a magician (Bing), with Patsy being his on-stage assistant and Thelma being his plant in the audience, for a private performance at a high society party

It's commonly stated that the Thelma Todd-starring series of comedies was one of producer's Hal Roach's attempts to recreate the commercial success of the Laurel & Hardy films with a female comedy team. Todd fronted the longest-running of these efforts, and out of the 19 I've watched of them so far, this is first one where I clearly saw the spectre that the ladies and their box office receipts were being measured against; there are several lines spoken by Thelma Todd in this film that sounded exactly like ones that would have been uttered by Oliver Hardy, and Patsy Kelly's distressed fidgeting in a couple of scenes put me in mind of Stan Laurel. Some of the close-ups of Todd making an exasperated face while looking into the camera in some of the other Todd/Kelly pairings have previously reminded me of the reaction close-up shots of Hardy to Laurel's antics in their films, but nothing has felt as Laurel & Hardy-esque as this "The Misses Stooge".

But speaking of close-ups of Todd making exasperated faces, those are, sadly, where she is at her funniest in this picture. I think this may be the first film where I've felt like she was "phoning it in". While there's a set-up that plays to her strengths in portraying elegant women with a sophisticated air or snobbish attitude about them, little ultimately comes of it. She really has very little to do in this film, and, although this has been the case in other pieces, it's always seemed like she was trying to make the most of that very little, that does not seem to be the case here. Except for some reaction shots; those are comedy gold.

While Todd doesn't have much to do in this film, that is not the case with Patsy Kelly. Kelly not only gets to do some funny gags, she also gets to be the more competent of the duo, for the first time in any of the films I've seen in this series. Although she is clearly doing a Stan Laurel impersonation to Todd's Oliver Hardy, her character is clearly a skilled vaudevillian who is trying to support her friend Thelma who has good looks and a high opinion of herself that is not backed up by skill or talent. It's a nice switch from several previous films where it seems like it's Todd carrying her dimwitted friend. Kelly is actually so good in this film that I ended up awarding the film Five Stars as opposed to the Four Stars I almost gave it... because, in the final analysis, "The Misses Stooge" is just not a very good film.

The problem is one that is common to this series: The script isn't very good. While there are strong ideas here, the execution is haphazard and unfocused, and the jokes just aren't all that funny. The cast, aside from Thelma Todd, all try their mightiest to make the best of the weak material, but they can't overcome the unfulfilled potential (a high society setting where no pretentiousness is brought low), inconsistent tone (the magic show moves randomly from actual magic to standard illusions), and that, once again, we've got a story that doesn't get resolved so much as it just ends (admittedly with a very literal bang, but it's still an unsatisfactory one).

Aside from Kelly's strong performance, "The Misses Stooge" is at its best during a sequence when Thelma Todd is floating away like a balloon after the magician loses control of a magic trick, with Patsy chasing after her; and during an ongoing gag about the guest of honor at the party (played by Rafael Storm) being so horny for Thelma, and so stupid that he threatens to ruin the magic show. This "best" is enough to keep you entertained as you watch the film unfold, but only just.

"The Misses Stooge" is included with all of the films Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly made together in a single three-DVD collection.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Halloween is coming...

... and Ann Rutherford is doing her part to spread some Halloween Spirit! How about you?

'The Sealed Room' is a great horror flick from the dawn of cinema

The Sealed Room (1909)
Starring:Arthur V. Johnson, Marion Leonard, Henry B. Walthall, and Mary Pickford
Director: D.W. Griffith
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When the king (Johnson) discovers his queen (Leonard) is using the room he had built for their private enjoyment to carry on with a bard (Walthall), he vents his hurt and anger in an extreme way.

"The Sealed Room" is a short film loosely based on (or, perhaps more accurately, inspired by) Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado". It's a nicely done chiller, with the story being told almost entirely through miming and action, with intertitles only being used to establish context. There are a couple points that are are pounded home with heavy hammer blows where a tap would have been sufficient, but, overall, we've got just the right amount of emoting going on here to get the message across.

One thing I found particularly entertaining about this film was that there were bits of business going on, aside from the main action in a scene, that were crucial in setting up things that followed. (The queens affair with the bard, for example, is established almost immediately... as well as how brazenly they carry it on. But it happens quickly, and it's in a scene where the viewer's main focus is on the king.) I also appreciated the comedic elements in the film, since they were also very subtle.

And I absolutely adore the way the scenes are framed. They feel very much like they are Flemish paintings brought to life.

Director D.W. Griffith was one of the pioneers of cinema, and he is best known for his feature length works. However, I am finding that I like his short films far better. I've embedded "The Sealed Room" in this post, so you can check it out for yourself... whether you want to put on your Film Snob Hat, or just get in a Halloween sort of mood. I think this film serves either purpose equally!


Picture Perfect Vampirella

Halloween is coming, and Vampirella wants to remind you to have plenty of candy in case she and her little friend stop by on the Big Night!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Musical Monday: The Skeleton Dance

This may be one of the nuttiest things you'll see the Holloween Season. It may 90 years old, but this early Disney cartoon is just as fun and crazy and many things being made today. It's a little slow in the wind-up, but your patience will be amply rewarded with lots of macabre mirth once it gets going. Enjoy--and may you be filled with the Spirit of Halloween!

Silly Symphony: The Skeleton Dance (1929)
Animation: Ub Iwerks (Walt Disney)
Music (and Original Idea): Carl Stalling
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars
Trivia: This was the first in a string of "Silly Symphony" animated short films from Walt Disney.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

'The Tin Man' is a so-so comedy that ends strong

The Tin Man (1935)
Starring: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, Clarence Wilson, and Matthew Betz
Director: James Parrott
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After getting lost on their to a party, Thelma and Patsy (Todd and Kelly) stop to ask for direction at a creepy old mansion. Unfortunately for them, it's home to a woman-hating mad scientist (Wilson) who decides to sic his robot on them. To complicate matters, a killer who escaped police custody (Betz) also sneaks into the house.

If "The Tin Man" shows us anything, it's that the who notion of making fun of "InCels" has existed for many, many years... even if some cute term hadn't been invented for it. Eighty-five years ago, they were poking fun at bitter, socially maladjusted men who lived alone and blamed women for their inability to get dates rather than their own failings, so this is a comedy that has stood the passage of time. It might even be one that both your Social Justice Warrior types and Right Wing whackadoodles can both find entertaining and amusing.

But that's about all they'll be--amused and entertained. While the script is a workmanlike send-up of the Old Dark House and Mad Scientist subgenres of horror films, there aren't a whole lot of jokes and gags will have viewers laughing out loud. For me, the film is at its funniest when the escaped killer (Matthew Betz) is repeatedly subjected to unintentional abuse because he is caught in the crossfire between the girls and the robot sent to menace them. It's not that any of the jokes weren't amusing... they just weren't spectacular. (The funniest bits come toward the end, after the robot goes bezerk due to rash actions by Patsy, meaning the film closes at its best. It's worth your while to stick with it.)

I think this film succeeds primarily on the tightly written story and the strong performances of its cast members. Despite the weak jokes, all four actors are in top form. Additionally, there isn't the sense that Thelma Todd's character looks down upon or otherwise views Patsy Kelly's character with contempt, as it has seemed in some of their other pairings. In "The Tin Man", while Todd is visibly frustrated with Kelly's dimwittedness at times, it seems perfectly believable that they're friends who would want to go to a party together.

"The Tin Man" 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.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Plain White T's do 'Pet Sematary'

The month-long Halloween celebration is in full-swing over at my Terror Titans blog. In addition to daily short films, I'm posting a different band's interpretation of the immortal song "Pet Sematary" by the Ramones every few days.

This particular cover by the White T's seemed to fit in better here, however. I hope you enjoy it (even if the connection with "Frankenweenie" doesn't make much sense to me), that it will stir the Halloween spirit within you, and that it might inspire you to check out this year's 31 Nights of Halloween at Terror Titans!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Halloween is coming...

... and Dorothy Sebastian is getting the decorations ready and trying out costume ideas. How about you?

(And don't miss the 31 Nights of Halloween film and music festival, currently unfolding at our sister blog, Terror Titans!)

Picture Perfect Vampirella

In order to help everyone get in the Spirit of the Season, there's going to be portraits of Vampirella, the Queen of Halloween, every Wednesday here at Shades of Gray! (As well as other tidbits as the month unfolds.)

By Val Mayerik

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