Sunday, July 20, 2014

Vintage 1950 Hoppy Ad

The revival in interest of Hopalong Cassidy was one of the great marketing phenomenons of the 1950's. Here, at the very beginning of the decade, an early taste of what was to come.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Swiss Miss

I discovered Laurel and hardy in the late 1960s and became a huge fan throughout the seventies. Here we see SWISS MISS, the team's successful 1938 "comeback" film with Hal Roach after more than a year off-screen. It wasn't long before contract disputes led to their becoming independent of Roach but, in spite of grand dreams, their product took a major downturn before their career as a team finished up just 13 years later.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Crossed Swords aka The Prince and the Pauper

Filmed as THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, this film's US release was delayed for a long time due to bad reviews and when it did come out it was as CROSSED SWORDS, opening in second run theaters.  

CROSSED SWORDS has one insurmountable problem. Unfortunately, it's the star, Mark Lester (possible future father of Michael Jackson's kids--Google it). Although he would have been perfect casting in 1970, he was here twice as old as his character should have been and taller than most of his costars with what more than one person described as "Harpo hair." Sumptuous sets and photography, a witty, fast-moving script and a classic story all fall apart whenever Lester's onscreen. Like many a child star before him, his natural abilities at 9 had dissipated at 18. After this movie, Mark Lester quit show biz and became a bartender. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Criss Cross and Me

The first time I ever hear of anyone besides myself named "Steve Thompson" was on an episode of HERE'S LUCY where an actor named Dick Patterson portrayed him. A few years later, though, I discovered this classic Noir flick where Burt Lancaster is "Steve Thompson!"

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Unholy 3-Both of Them

Probably owing much to Forrest J. Ackerman's relentless championing of the late Lon Chaney, Sr. as one of the great horror stars, the fact that the actor had an amazingly diverse career and was, in fact, considered one of MGM's biggest stars in general, seems forgotten.

In 1925, Chaney starred in a melodrama entitled THE UNHOLY THREE about sideshow geeks teaming up to become criminals. 

In 1930, it was THE UNHOLY THREE script that was dusted off and spruced up to become Chaney's first talking picture as well! The Man of a Thousand Faces received rave reviews for his first talkie and was, in fact, touted as also being The Man of a Thousand Voices!

But then Lon Chaney died later in the year and the second UNHOLY THREE became his final film appearance. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Little Orphan Annie-1932

I finally got to see the 1932 version of LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE with my favorite, Ms. Mitzi Green. And I loved it!

Much more faithful to the original Depression-era strip than I was expecting, the picture starts with Annie and her dog Sandy bidding farewell to Daddy Warbucks. Warbucks has had his fortune stolen from him and is hitching a freight South determined to get it back by Christmas, but reluctantly leaving his adopted daughter to fend for herself--not for the first time--on the streets of (presumably) New York City.

Annie and Sandy encounter the newly orphaned youngster Mickey and our plucky heroine gives him a pep talk before deciding to save him from the horrors of the orphanage as she remembers it. Her attempts at mothering him are sweet but awkward and when things go awry, she has no choice but to take him to the orphanage and its doctor. Only when Mickey lets slip that she, too, is an orphan, they decided to KEEP Annie!

Mizi Green had bee THE female child star in 1930-31 but puberty hit and here she looks almost but not quite too old for Annie. With her trademark short black hair replaced by lighter curly locks and a familiar outfit, her light Bronx accent adds what I consider to be just the right touch to Annie. Mitzi's schtick, though, always included her impressions as well. Here--not her best--she does the Marx Brothers, reenacting scenes from the then-recent HORSEFEATHERS! This is odd for various reasons, not the least of which is that this is an RKO production (from David Selznick, the man who would later bring you GONE WITH THE WIND!) while the Marx films of the period were from Paramount!

The RKO connection probably means that it was most likely the Van Buren Studio who did Mickey's creepy animated  nightmare sequence! Van Buren distributed their theatrical cartoons through RKO between 1928 and 1936.

Another nice touch is that the popular theme from the LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE radio show pops up as an instrumental in the otherwise Max Steiner score.

Short, sweet and melodramatic, just like the strip itself., LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE builds nicely to a satisfying climax but that actually shows the film's biggest weakness. The great slow burn expert Edgar Kennedy is Warbucks in the opening and closing scenes. In between, he apparently did exactly what he had set out to do...only we saw not one second of it. In the strip, we would have had days of asides from the main plot where we followed Daddy routing out the wranglers and working his way back to his beloved Annie. In the film, that could easily have been a running subplot, adding no more than half an hour to the already programmer-length picture.

Ah well, as is, it's still immensely entertaining. Within 2 years, the then 14 year old Mitzi was being cast in adult roles so a sequel was probably never forthcoming once puberty hit her hard. A lifeless LOA film was made in 1938 with a different plot, different producers and a different cast. It would be nearly 4 decades before the Broadway musical made our little heroine a household word again. What can I say. It's a hard-knock life.