Monday, June 28, 2010

Independence Day Cartoons

This week we have a look at Independence Day as Hollywood saw it. We’ll get to Cary Grant on Thursday. Today, a few wildly different Independence Day images from animated cartoons.

“Bunker Hill Bunny” (1950) gives us Yosemite Sam as a Hessian fighting more for himself more than for King George III. This one shows us how Bugs Bunny won the Revolutionary War. Remember that for your SATs.

Here is Bugs again, this time doing his bit for the United States World War II effort, urging movie goers to buy bonds in “Any Bonds Today” (1942). He is the personification of Uncle Sam, with the famous image of the painting called “Spirit of ‘76” by Archibald MacNeal Willard behind him, as if they are backing him up. This was painted in 1875 to commemorate the Centennial of the American Revolution. I wonder how often this image has been used, or parodied and lampooned?

Here in “Patriotic Popeye” (1957), we have the much more sedate depiction of a peaceful 4th of July celebration with Popeye watering his flower garden grown in the pattern of the American flag. The conflict disrupting his bucolic scene is caused by his nephews, who want to light “atomic” fireworks.” He tries to take the danger out of the holiday and ends the adventure by blowing up red, white, and blue balloons for them. No brave patriots this time, just a desperate wish for a “safe and sane” holiday. Not a bad thought, but my, how tame we’d gotten by the 1950s.

Except maybe for the atomic sky rocket.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Callaway Went Thataway - 1951

“Callaway Went Thataway” (1951), continues our look at old movies as filler for programming on early TV, and on the “Hopalong” Cassidy phenomenon in particular. Not that Hoppy is actually mentioned, in fact the film ends with a careful disclaimer to that effect.

Fred MacMurray and Dorothy McGuire play ad executives who are making money hand over fist with their latest property, the redistribution of old “Smokey Callaway” B-movies to the hungry TV market. Even more, the merchandizing of Smokey Callaway toys, etc. But, the network execs decide this is such a good thing, they want to hire the cowpoke to make some brand new films. The problem is, Callaway is nowhere to be found. Enter a young look-alike, played by Howard Keel.

We are first introduced to the Hoppy, er, that is, Callaway phenomenon, through the montage of small children glued to the TV, watching their hero’s every move. This includes a couple of poker-faced young African-American kids, who, as discussed in this previous post on Herb Jeffries, were given little by either Hollywood or TV in the way of a black hero to emulate. Clearly, we are shown that Callaway appeals to everybody in this democratic republic. It’s a cute shot, that can’t help but ring hollow. Grownups love him, too, including a fawning Natalie Schafer, who plays the wife of the big TV boss. You may remember her as Lovey in “Gilligan’s Island.”

The team of MacMurray and McGuire are now up a creek, because the real Callaway disappeared to a life of dissipation years ago, and the look-alike cowboy they hire to play him wants nothing to do with TV. He is sincere, honest, naïve, and gentle. Howard Keel, with his choir boy haircut and soft speech, is adorable, and it’s kind of amazing to see him later on in the film playing the real Callaway, an obnoxious, womanizing boozer, with the same face, the same clothes, and yet actually appearing different. His voice booms and his face actually looks puffier, his hard, dim eyes glaring with suspicion and resentment.

But, until they find the real Callaway, they must utilize his erstwhile double, and on a coast to coast train trip, McGuire tries to impress upon Mr. Keel how important Smokey Callaway is as a role model to children. Along the way, he falls in love with her, but she is reluctant to submit to his aw-shucks charm.

She and MacMurray have that 1930s screwball comedy rapport with each other, but it’s somewhat forced and we are given to understand there is no romantic involvement between them. She undergoes a conversion when she falls in love with Howard Keel and decides the ad racket has gotten too deceitful for her. Mr. MacMurray never undergoes such a conversion, remaining a likeable, but undependable trickster to the end. MacMurray was so good playing guys on the knife edge of good and bad.

On their coast-to-coast trip we get some rear screen project of Niagara Falls, a lot of train interior shots, which is always lovely, but their stop in San Francisco appears to be really filmed there. There is also a bit at the end filmed at the Los Angeles Coliseum, so we might wonder what kind of build-up this movie had and what expense went into making it.

There are even a few star cameos. Esther Williams and her sons accost Keel in a hotel lobby, and later he meets Elizabeth Taylor and Clark Gable at the Mocambo, both of whom he greets effusively and neither of whom he recognizes.

Mr. Keel, who fairly hero-worships the (he thinks) saintly character he is playing, decides to set up a charitable foundation for children with his salary. But then, the real Smokey shows up like an evil twin, and wants all the moolah and all the swag that the team of MacMurray and McGuire have been generating. There is the inevitable fight scene between the good and evil Smokeys, and because they are wearing the same clothes, we don’t know who is who.

Finally, the real one learns of the charitable foundation set up by his look-alike, and bails out of the whole Smokey Callaway franchise. He doesn’t want any part of it if he can’t keep the money himself. The look-alike gets to keep the job.

Fred MacMurray tosses off a funny line with all seriousness, “What’s the Smokey Callaway Foundation? Have we got a girdle tie-in?”

We end with a rousing appearance at the Coliseum, and Miss McGuire’s 11th-hour commitment to being the sweetheart of a TV cowboy.

Both these films, “Dreamboat” and “Callaway Went Thataway” harken back to the screwball comedies of a previous generation, but they land squarely in the present, using it as surely as any socially conscious dramatic film of that era did to bring reality to the movies. “Callaway” ends with the interesting disclaimer, as much a signpost to the era as the fake signpost it was printed on. (The opening screen titles on a similar signpost remind me of “My Darling Clementine.”)

“This picture was made in the spirit of fun, and was meant in no way to detract from the wholesome influence, civic mindedness and the many charitable contributions of Western idols of our American youth, or to be a portrayal of any of them.”

A case of methinks they doth protest too much?

Actually, Hopalong Cassidy, is the real hero on whom this movie is based. You might remember his showing up Boris Karloff in the 1950 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, as discussed in this previous post. From the book “Total Television” by Alex M. Neal (Penguin Books, NY, 1996, 4th edition), we have a few stats on our hero. Hoppy made 66 B-movies from 1935 to 1948. William Boyd, who played Hoppy, cannily acquired the TV rights to his films, and re-edited them to fit 30 and 60-minute timeslots. According to author Mr. Neal, “thus, he was in a position to offer a readily available source of action programming to the rapidly expanding postwar television station market.”

Hopalong Cassidy merchandise on display at the Autry Musuem of the American West, Los Angeles (author photo)

His show ran from 1949 to 1951 on NBC, and then continued in syndication from 1952 to 1954. Hoppy was perfect for the new medium and the black and white sets: he dressed in black, and rode a white horse. Anybody remember Hoppy’s horse’s name?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dreamboat - 1952

This week we have a couple of movies that illustrate that cusp of the television era, just before the so-called Golden Age of TV, when the new medium was searching for fodder to fill up the airways. Old movies filled the gap and made life easier for the network programmers. They were cheap, plentiful, and most had not been seen for a generation.

Today, we have “Dreamboat” (1952), in which Clifton Webb’s former past as a silent screen heartthrob comes back to haunt him. On Thursday, we’ll have a look at the “Hopalong Cassidy” phenomenon (through a generic replica, of course, copyrights being what they are), with “Callaway Went Thataway” (1951).

That these two films came one after the other, and dealing with the same subject matter, is some indication of the enormous impact TV was beginning to have, and how dependent it still was upon old movies to fill up hours of programming. Movies and TV have always been co-dependent. Most of us who are classic film buffs were introduced to these films on television, long before DVDs and video. We would not be film buffs without television. Evidently in the early 1950s, though Hollywood might have panicked about being challenged by television, there was still some sense of humor about their relationship with the new gadget.

“Dreamboat” is a romp, as outrageous a vehicle for Clifton Webb and Ginger Rogers as the campy silent film clips we see of them together in the typical 1920s scenarios: a Zorro-like hero, a World War I ace, a Valentino-like hero, all shown on commercial television, commercials being the operative word. Ginger, now a Hollywood has-been, has a new job hosting these old silent movies and pushing the product, which in this case is perfume.

Clifton Webb is a college professor, intelligent, severe, whose extreme dignity makes him the butt of the campus jokesters. Mr. Webb’s dignity was a tool he used, or was made use of by others, in just about any film he was in. It made him alternately pathetic, heroic, sinister, or just plain foolish. It’s amazing how much mileage he got in his career with a withering glance and a sarcastic reply.

His daughter, played by Anne Francis, who we last saw as a teenager in the last few minutes of “Portrait of Jennie” (1948), is, in attitude, nearly a carbon copy of dad, except there is an added bit of shrewish impatience which threatens to stamp out any likeability in her. But this only helps to set up her eventual conversion.

Both father and daughter set out on a quest, for vindication, and though they don’t yet know it, for conversion to adapting to the big wide world they both disdain. That world, in part, is represented by television, which Miss Francis calls the “idiot’s delight.” She is reluctantly brought to a college party where the gang gathers to watch that program hosted by Ginger Rogers showing those old movies of hers with her former co-star, Clifton Webb. And push perfume during the commercials. One of the perfumes is called “My Five Sins.”

“Five?” Clifton Webb later asks, astonished.

The gang knows this simpering, overacting, sword carrying hero with the overdose of Brilliantine on his hair is their hated college professor, and they throw this revelation in young Miss Francis’ astonished face.

Pop, who tried to hide his former career, is equally abashed, and decides to go to New York where the TV program is produced to demand they take it off the air. Not only his dignity, but his job is on the line. The board is uneasy with an English professor with this kind of unsavory background, which seems to make a mockery of their prestige. Only the college president, played by the wonderful Elsa Lanchester, is willing to give Clifton Webb a break. She is a fan, and makes several awkward and athletic attempts to seduce him.

She asks the age-old question, asked so often in melodramas, “Has it ever occurred to you I’m also a woman?”

Off father and daughter go to New York, where he meets up again with his old co-star, the now much older Ginger Rogers. Miss Rogers sinks her teeth into what must have been a fun role as an over-the-top, manipulative, self-involved, has-been, who clings ferociously to any thread of her former career as a matinee idol.

While Rogers and Webb tangle with network executives, lawyers, and their own uncomfortable partnership, which we are made to understand was never as romantic as it appeared on screen, Webb’s daughter is shown around town, and his apartment, by a network underling, a very handsome and affable Jeffrey Hunter. She begins to experience life outside of museums and lecture halls, and likes it. We know she has become a woman of the world when she takes off her glasses.

Clifton Webb has a fun scene where he gets into a bar fight. Helpless to defend himself, he sees one of his old movies on the TV above the bar which shows him vigorously fighting off a gang of ruffians. So, he watches himself, gets a few pointers, and once again, beats the bad guys. Unfortunately for him, Elsa Lanchester pursues him to New York and he has a tougher time shaking her.

The dramatic climax takes place in court, with our old friend Ray Collins as the attorney defending the TV network in its right to show these old movies. Clifton Webb dismisses his own theatric attorney with my favorite line, “You overdid it. I’m not an unwed mother lost in a snowstorm.”

A TV set is put on the stand so that Mr. Webb may demonstrate to the court that TV is not, as Ray Collins would have us believe, an instrument of education, but rather a haven of idiocy. A couple of commercials are shown, typical of the day, that parody both the disingenuous message of commercials (something which has not changed through the decades), but also frank stupidity of the audience which the makers of these commercial must assume. The hair tonic with “Penetroleum” with ingredients like “cosmotron” may get us to laugh, but compare this with the more subtly sinister commercials in “A Face In the Crowd” (1957). That is a more cynical film, but this one, for all its silliness, is hardly naïve. We may get the feeling we are sliding inexorably toward “A Face in the Crowd”.

Mr. Webb wins his case, proving that the films have been altered to make him look foolish, but loses his college professor job when he spurns the scorned Miss Lanchester. She fires him in retaliation. This was the day when sexual harassment was an accepted mode of employee relations and job security.

Left without a career, Webb is not too downhearted, for as he gloats to the now also out of work Ginger Rogers, that Hollywood has come calling back for him. We see him finally in a clip of a new movie, where his dignity is abused for laughs, and three small children throw food at him. It’s a living.

Come back Thursday for another look at the movies-cum-TV era with “Callaway Went Thataway,” with Dorothy McGuire, Fred MacMurray, and Howard Keel.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

And the winner is....

Today, we pick our winner of the two DVDs recently released by A&E Home Entertainment. These prizes are…


…and also…


Have a look at Monday’s post for a detailed description and review of these excellent historical documentaries.

And, since she’s the only one who threw her hat in the ring, both prizes go to our inimitable….

Caftan Woman!!!!!!

Congratulations! (Balloons fall from ceiling, ships in the harbor blast their horns, crowds cheer, and toddlers distractedly look up from their sippy cups and smile.)

Please email me at: with the name and mailing address where you’d like your prize sent. The name and address will not be published on this blog.

Special thanks to A&E Home Entertainment for providing both the prize and the review copies of these two fine DVDs.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Contest - Two WWII Documentaries on DVD

More free stuff this week, and just in time for Father’s Day. A&E Home Entertainment has recently released on DVD two excellent documentaries on the fighting in the Pacific Theater in World War II. Today, we offer these as a two separate contest prizes.

These documentaries are…


…and also…


A description and review of these films is included below. But before we get to that, a few contest rules:

You have from now until Thursday, June 17th at noon Eastern Time to enter the contest for these DVDs. Because these are two different documentaries, I’m going to offer them as two prizes, and pick two winners. To enter the contest, just leave a comment below stating you want to enter the contest. State the title of which you prefer, or just write “either”. If I pick two winners who happen to want the same title, the second one I draw wins the other film by default.

If your name is announced on Thursday as the winner of one of these DVDs, then please email me at: with the name and mailing address where you’d like your prize sent. The name and address will not be published on this blog.

I will contact our good friends at A&E Home Entertainment, and they will mail you your prize.

Now, about those films…

The first, WORLD WAR II: THE WAR IN THE PACIFIC is a two-disc set. The features listed include:

DISC ONE (approx 90 mins)

ISLAND HOPPING: THE ROAD BACK--The epic story of the Allies' island-by-island Pacific campaign, using massive amphibious assaults.

JUNGLE WARFARE: NEW GUINEA TO BURMA--In the steamy jungles of the Pacific, soldiers battled not only the Japanese, but malaria, heat exhaustion, and swarms of parasites.

AIR WAR IN THE PACIFIC--From the war's first days, to the suicidal Kamikaze attacks and the bombing missions that brought the war to the Japanese homeland.

THE BLOODY RIDGES OF PELELIU--From the opening Naval bombardment, to the hand-to-hand combat and vicious guerrilla warfare, this is the complete story of this brutal and historic battle.

DISC TWO (approx 95 min)

THE RETURN TO THE PHILIPPINES--From MacArthur's strategy to the heroics of the gound, naval, and air troops, it's a stunning story of unstoppable determination.

OKINAWA...THE LAST BATTLE--Witness the desperate, suicidal resistance of the Japanese in the final battle of the Pacific campaign.

ADMIRAL WILLIAM 'BULL' HALSEY: NAVAL WARRIOR--Sail into battle with one of the most celebrated naval commanders in American history.

“World War II - The War in the Pacific” is hosted and narrated by Patrick O’Neal, and is comprised almost entirely of original battle films shot by the U.S. military, along with what looks like some newsreel film, and possibly some film taken by the Japanese military. Except for Mr. O’Neal’s segments, the rest is in black and white with voice over narration. The episodes of this program were originally put together in 1985 for television. The final segment, a biography of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey was originally shown as part of the program “Biography.”

The second prize, a DVD is also a two-disc set, titled D-DAYS IN THE PACIFIC. “Though most people associate D-Day with the massive invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, a 'D-Day' is actually military term for any amphibious operation, and few theaters during World War II saw as many battles as the waters of the Pacific, where more than 100 D-Days were waged.”

This two-disc set includes the following documentary features:

DISC ONE - 137 min

DEATH AT THE TIDELINE: Follow America's earliest amphibious invasions, including the ill-equipped landing on Guadalcanal.

CLOSING THE JAWS: America's forces gain new expertise and power, and Nimitz and MacArthur have the enemy on the run.

THE FINAL GRAVEYARD: Relive the battles that pierced Japan's defenses and brought the war to a close.

DISC TWO - 139 min

THE BLOODY HILLS OF PELELIU: Incredible combat footage documents one of the deadliest battlegrounds of the Pacific.

BIOGRAPHY: ADMIRAL CHESTER NIMITZ: Discover the story behind the man who turned a shattered fleet into a devastating naval powerhouse.

BIOGRAPHY: GENERAL DOUGLAS MacARTHUR: Learn how this fabled General was able to defeat a seemingly unstoppable Japanese war machine.

These episodes were originally from 2005, and the two biography episodes on Admiral Chester Nimitz and on General Douglas MacArthur are from the Biography program on A&E. “D-Days in the Pacific” is also comprised mostly of original footage, some of it is in color. Some of the color footage I believe to actually be “colorized” from the original black and white. This documentary also has interviews with prominent historians and also (now elderly) participants in these battles.

What is most striking about these two documentary DVDs, both “World War II - the War in the Pacific” and “D-Days in the Pacific” is that they are all business, brisk telling of horrific events, including some footage that is difficult to watch for its brutality, but remain engrossing and informative films.

Today, there is a much different style of filmmaking, not just for feature films but also for documentaries, that involves a great deal of splashy graphics and quick cuts. This, I suppose, is meant to add drama to the telling of the story, but which I find inevitably adds only to the “dumbing down” of history. Making the film look like a video arcade game to attract attention is not the same thing as keeping attention. Especially when it becomes really annoying.

The material is dramatic enough. It does not need enhancement with gimmicks which would seem to appeal to 13-year-old boys.

These two films have a slower pace, an honest, matter-of-fact delivery, and leave even those who have some knowledge of the events of the war in the Pacific with greater understanding and appreciation of the cost, and the effort, and the results. For people who have yet to be introduced to the story of how the war was won in the Pacific, either of these films is a great introduction.

If your father or grandfather, mother or grandmother served in the military in the Pacific during World War II, these films contain everything they were never quite able to tell you.

Leave a comment below to enter the contest to win one of these DVDs. Or, get your copy of WORLD WAR II - THE WAR IN THE PACIFIC here. Get your copy of D-DAYS IN THE PACIFIC here.

Special thanks to A&E Home Entertainment for these contest prizes and DVD review copies.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Movie Typists

High time for another round of sexy typists. Here we have Bette Davis in “Old Acquaintance” (1943), discussed in this previous blog post, who proves that the only thing more sexy than a typist is a typist who wears glasses.

Bette flexes her magic fingers again in front of the keyboard for “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1942), discussed in this previous blog post. She seems to be challenging Barbara Stanwyck for the title of being Hollywood’s most prolific typist.

Perhaps the word “sexy” does not always apply to typists, but typing does wonders to improve one’s sensuality. Here were see Jack Lemmon in “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958), discussed in this previous post. He has Kim Novak’s attention.

Even Ernie Kovacs, from the same movie, though not exactly the romantic hero type, somehow seems…

Well, all right. It doesn’t work for everybody.

Here we have Dan Duryea and Walter Brennan from “Pride of the Yankees” (1942), discussed in this previous post. I guess it really doesn’t work for everybody.

For our previous posts on movie typists, have a look here, and here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

For the Love of Film - A Happy Ending

The big news today for old movie fans is, first, the announcement by the National Film Preservation Foundation on several silent films, thought to be lost, discovered in New Zealand. Secondly, all those who took part in February’s For the Love of Film blogathon (here’s my entry on “Vertigo”) hosted by Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films and Farran Smith Nehme, a.k.a. The Self-Styled Siren, may take pride that the money raised is being used specifically to restore a couple of silent Westerns: “The Sergeant” (1910), and “The Better Man” (1912).

The above screen credit is to be applied to these two films.

For more on this exciting news, please have a look at The Self-Style Siren, and Ferdy on Films. The National Film Preservation Foundation site has a clip of “The Sergeant.”

Well done, one and all.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Paramount Theater - Rutland, Vermont

The Paramount Theater of Rutland, Vermont is another of those splendid resurrections we are fortunate to observe, preserving that great era of theaters. A couple of weeks ago on my Tragedy and Comedy in New England blog, I referred to a recent staged reading of a play of mine by the Vermont Actors’ Repertory Theatre, which uses the Black Box Theater that is part of the Paramount Theater building.

It was once called The Playhouse Theatre, completed in 1913 and opening in 1914. The exterior, as its website notes, is an example of the classic “City Beautiful” movement of the day, and the interior was all lush Victorian opera house, with seating for 1,000 in the orchestra, balcony, and six boxes.

Ethel Barrymore performed on stage here, and Sarah Bernhardt, along with vaudeville acts. Later, it was “talking pictures”, and in 1931, the theater was renamed The Paramount. During World War II, war bond rallies were staged here. But what happened to a lot of theaters in the 1970s happened to The Paramount: their facilities decayed, reflecting perhaps the decline of the film industry. It closed in 1975.

It was empty for a generation. In 1999 restoration began. Theaters were once the heart of communities large and small, and Rutland has proven to have a lot of heart. The Paramount reopened in 2000, due to the hard work and efforts of many contributors.

Today, live stage shows are produced here. Ethel Barrymore and Sarah Bernhardt, and all those vaudeville acts, might nod in appreciation. We can only smile, and cheer.

For more on The Paramount Theater of Rutland, Vermont, have a look at this website.

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