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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My First Marx Brothers Film

I grew up knowing who Groucho Marx was. I saw the final episodes of YOU BET YOUR LIFE and then years and years of reruns. I saw TELL IT TO GROUCHO and I saw him on various variety shows, talk shows and even IN DREAM OF JEANNIE. I remember having "Groucho glasses," with the fake mustache attached, and running around with a black crayon cigar raising my eyebrows.

But I never knew he had any brothers.

Harpo lived until 1964, Chico 1961 and heck, Zeppo was alive after I had become an adult!

But I'd somehow never heard of them! Then one day circa 1972, I caught a  local re-release of 1938's ROOM SERVICE starring Groucho and the brothers I didn't know he had! Or at least 2 of them!

What th...? Was that mustache...PAINTED ON??!! And why wasn't that other guy saying anything? And the 3rd guy? Groucho's brother was an Italian? I was SO confused!

I knew Lucy, of course, and even Ann Miller from TV. But this whole thing seemed a bit of an anarchic mess! What was all the fuss about? These guys weren't much of a team at all, and the material seemed ill-suited to them.

As I found WAS. ROOM SERVICE had been a hit non-Marx stage play that RKO bought as a vehicle to borrow the Marxes who were on the outs with MGM after 2 big hits. It was a poor choice and, knowing what I know now, I'd bet that Chico's legendary debts had  much to do with the others agreeing to do the film.

Other, better Marx films were re-released throughout the rest of the decade and I became quite the aficionado...but not because of ROOM SERVICE.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lynn Belvedere

Mr. Belvedere is a fastidious, egotistical character portrayed by actor Clifton Webb in a series of 3 comedies in the late forties-early fifties. Although he had quite a wide range, Webb was already known for playing similar, if less sympathetic, characters before, probably most notably his Waldo Lydecker in the Noir classic LAURA. He would go on to still more similar roles in movies such as MR. SCOUTMASTER and DREAMBOAT.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Even More Mitzi

Went through even more online movie archives and found yet more photos of my favorite child star of all time...whom I just last year discovered! In the days just before Shirley Temple and a sudden pubescent growth spurt pretty much nixed her on-screen career, Mitzi Green was about as big as they came and as charismatic and talented as nearly all of the grown-up stars of the day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

House of Wax Trade Ad

When I was growing up, local stations leased rights to various movie "packages" from various distributors. Here's a quite nifty ad promoting a Warner Brothers package utilizing an image of Vincent price in HOUSE OF WAX.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Donald Meek

Another favorite of my father's, Donald meek was an always welcome character actor who excelled at portraying both comic relief and subtle villainy and was capable of very nuanced performances in dramas.

He portrayed Mr. Poppins in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, a role I played years later onstage.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Youngest Profession-1943

When I watched THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION recently, I couldn't believe I had never even heard of it before. It's an MGM release starring THE PHILADELPHIA STORY's kid sister, Virginia Weidler with her real life BFF, Jean Porter, as her delightfully Texas-accented sidekick. 

The two have great on-screen chemistry and I would have loved to have seen a whole series starring them but Ms. Weidler was soon to leave the business and Ms. Porter's future husband, Edward Dmytryk, would be blacklisted as part of the Hollywood Ten.

The plot has the girls as autograph-crazed teens and the picture contains amusing turns by several MGM celebs as themselves--Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Taylor, Lana Turner, and William Powell. The regular cast isn't exactly second rate, either, with Edward Arnold, Agnes Moorehead, Scotty Beckett when he was still adorable and, surprisingly stealing every scene he's in, John Carroll.