Wednesday, August 31, 2011
"Jail Bait was the place where Edward D. Wood Jr.'s career as a director entered the mainstream. Having exposed the world of transvestism in Glen or Glenda, he now turned to less ambitious fare in an effort at commercial success. Loosely patterned after the television series Dragnet, Jail Bait tells the story of Don Gregor (Clancey Malone), the spoiled, arrogant son of a successful plastic surgeon (Herbert Rawlinson), who is out for some kicks and excitement and hooks up with Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell), a career criminal. Opening with Don's arrest for illegal possession of a pistol, the film tracks his interaction with a pair of detectives (Lyle Talbot, Steve Reeves); his deceiving of his sister (Dolores Fuller) and his father; the robbery that goes wrong and leads him to murder an ex-cop; and his attempt to go straight, which gets him killed. That action, and Brady's attempt to force Dr. Gregor to alter his face, leads to a bizarre revenge that makes up the final 15 minutes of the movie. Little of this plot is unfolded skillfully -- Wood was already out of his depth in directing actors -- but having access to Howco's finances (meager as they were) and facilities gives Jail Bait a slightly smoother, less emaciated look than most of Wood's later movies. Coupled with the fact that he was trying to do a straight crime film, and the resulting restraint he showed in the writing, Jail Bait can just about "pass" as a normal, albeit very low-budget film, although, as with all of Wood's movies, there is still an unintended laugh every minute or so. And just to show how close to the edge Wood was working even at the outset of his career, in terms of using marginal talent, neophyte performers, and one-time successful actors, Bela Lugosi was not the first leading actor in a Wood movie to die during production -- that distinction went to Herbert Rawlinson, who played Dr. Gregor here. The former silent-era leading man reportedly died the night after he finished shooting his role in Jail Bait."
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
"A rebellious teenager runs away from home and joins the SoHo beatniks when her widowed father remarries a much younger woman. But beatnik life isn't all it seems and she ends up hanging out as a stripper in a sleazy club, hoping to learn about her mom. There the creepy club owner attempts to seduce her, and his lover gets jealous and stabs him. Now the two must do something fast. The film is also known as Wild for Kicks, and features music from rocker Adam Faith, the John Barry Seven, and other beatnik acts."
Monday, August 29, 2011
"Burlesque queen Doll Face Carroll is dismissed from an audition for a legitimate Broadway show because she lacks culture. Her boss/manager Mike decides that she can get both culture and plenty of publicity by writing her autobiography. He hires a ghost writer to do all the work, but doesn't count on the possibility that Doll Face and her collaborator might have more than a book on their minds."
Sunday, August 28, 2011
"Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld brought his legendary "Follies" to the silver screen in Glorifying the American Girl. The barely visible plotline concerns a virginal young miss (Mary Eaton) who aspires to greatness as a Follies girl. With stars in her eyes, she heads to New York, leaving her hometown boyfriend to fend for himself. Upon arriving in the Big Apple, our heroine links up with a two-bit dancer who offers to make her a star -- if only she'll let him make her, period. The greater part of the film is given over to a re-creation of a "typical" Follies production, replete with musical solos by Rudy Vallee and Helen Morgan and a sidesplitting comedy sketch with Eddie Cantor and Louis Sorin as a pair of kvetching Jewish tailors ("Vat's der idea uff calling me a damn fool in front uff der customers?" "So, it's a secret?"). From time to time, the camera cuts away to the many celebrities enjoying the show, including journalist Ring Lardner, nightclub doyenne Texas Guinan, New York mayor Jimmy Walker, Paramount Pictures head man Adolph Zukor, and Flo Ziegfeld himself, accompanied by his then-wife, Billie Burke. And yes, that's Johnny Weissmuller on-stage as a provocatively undraped "Nature Boy." As a bonus, the musical score was the handiwork of Irving Berlin. Originally filmed in Technicolor, Glorifying the American Girl is presently available only in black-and-white."
Saturday, August 27, 2011
"Previously filmed with Lillian Gish in 1926, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter was given a remarkably faithful treatment by low-budget Majestic Pictures in 1934. In her last film appearance, Colleen Moore stars as 17th-century Salem resident Hester Prynne, who when she delivers a child out of wedlock is forced by the prudish townspeople to wear the scarlet "A" for adultery. The father of the baby is none other than Reverend Dimmesdale (Hardie Albright), who wants to confess to his indiscretion but is prohibited from doing so by the pious Hester. Things come to a sorry pass when Hester's long-missing husband Roger Chillingworth (Henry B. Walthall, repeating his role from the 1926 version) returns to Salem and demands a few immediate answers. The film's colonial-era milieu is not always realized, due to inconsistent period costumes and phraseology; also, the direction and acting ranges from adequate to stilted. Still, this Scarlet Letter is a lot more worthwhile than Demi Moore's vanity remake of 1995."
Friday, August 26, 2011
"Adapted by DuBose Heyward from a Eugene O'Neill play, Emperor Jones is one of Paul Robeson's earliest and most powerful leading roles. Railroad porter Brutus Jones (Robeson) leaves his girlfriend Dolly (Ruby Elzy) in favor of Undine (Fredi Washington), but he soon leaves her too. Brutus is a master manipulator, liar, and swindler who murders his friend Jeff (Frank Wilson) over a crap game. He ends up on a chain gang, but escapes to Haiti where the white trader Smithers (Dudley Digges) buys his freedom. He then scams his way into a business partnership with Smithers and becomes rich. He plays tricks on the natives with a gun, proclaiming that only a silver bullet can kill him. The natives believe he is immortal and he declares himself emperor, holding a tyrannical rule over the people. They naturally revolt, and he is forced to escape into the jungle. Brutus disappears into the woods where he hears voices and sees visions, eventually leading up to his suicide."
Thursday, August 25, 2011
"This first of four film versions of the Ben Hecht/Charlrd MacArthur Broadway hit stars Adolphe Menjou as explosive Chicago newspaper-editor Walter Burns and Pat O'Brien as his star reporter Hildy Johnson. Hildy is on the verge of getting married and retiring from Burns' dirty little tabloid, but he agrees to cover one last story: the politically motivated execution of convicted cop killer Earl Williams (George E. Stone). Thanks to the stupidity of the police, Williams manages to escape, and Johnson hides the wounded fugitive in a rolltop desk in the prison pressroom. Burns enters the scene, senses a swell story (and also a means of keeping Johnson on his payroll), and conspires with Johnson to keep Williams out of sight until they can secure an exclusive interview. Burns will do anything to keep Johnson on the scene, including having the reporter's future mother-in-law kidnapped. Complicating matters are Johnson's fiancée Peggy (Mary Brian), Williams' girlfriend Molly Malloy (Mae Clarke), and the corrupt mayor (James Gordon) and sheriff (Clarence C. Wilson), who have railroaded Williams to the death house in order to win votes and are now trying to suppress the news that the governor has commuted Williams' sentence. The Front Page was remade by Howard Hawks in 1939 as His Girl Friday, with the symbiotic relationship between Burns and Johnson changed to a sexual one by transforming Hildy Johnson into a woman (played by Rosalind Russell) with Cary Grant as her old flame Walter. It was again remade by Billy Wilder in 1974 with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Carol Burnett, and a young Susan Sarandon."
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
"This film offers rare footage of Dizzy Gillespie and the Orchestra performing live on-stage. Widely credited with the invention of the form of jazz known as bop, Gillespie's showmanship and infectious personality played a large role in the acceptance of the music. The footage here includes performance by other musicians, notably Charlie Parker. Fans of bebop will certainly find this tape of value."