Friday, December 19, 2014

FRUGGING ON THE BEACH 1929-STYLE



Apropos of last weeks posting of a few numbers from the 1929 musical "Tanned Legs", here's another number from the movie called "Come In The Water". Uh, yeah. Anyway, it's a nifty little ditty but it's the first forty seconds of the clip that I find especially interesting. Basically it's a mini-documentary of what it was like to party down on a crowded beach in the 1920s. Various details to note: the men wore shirts along with their strange semi-short pants and some appear to have socks on as well. Volleyball was already a going thing on the beach (it's always felt to me much more 1960s in spirit). And at thirty seconds in, you'll see a couple frugging, 1920s-style, to unheard music that can only have been in their heads as there were, as yet, no mobile music devices known to man--at least none that operated without electricity. Or was there electricity out there on the beach on that long forgotten but sunny and happy day in 1929? The footage, though verite in spirit, was most likely staged, given the admirably smooth dolly move that opens the mini-sequence. So maybe there was a generator. Or, more likely, a small orchestra off camera providing mood music...

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

JOHN HUSTON: MASTER OF THE NON-ANECDOTE



Stephen Sondheim rates Noel Coward as his first choice for "Master Of Blather".  I nominate John Huston for an award similar in spirit but opposite in execution. For while Coward was expert at prattling wittily on while oftentimes not saying anything particularly witty, Huston had the anti-gift of saying very little indeed and making it all sound quite profound. The above posted two minute clip of Huston talking about Marilyn Monroe (he directed her at the beginning of her career in "Asphalt Jungle"--which was not her first film as Huston thinks it was--and in her last, 1960s "The Misfits") is remarkable for how little Huston manages to say and how long, drawn-out and pensively, thoughtfully delivered his non-information is. You stare at him, fascinated by his charisma, his voice, his cigar, the barking hounds off-camera (he was probably squeezing this interview in between foxhunts), not realizing until it's over that he took almost two minutes to explain a non-event that could have been delivered in 20 seconds.

But I'll always love Huston for so many things...one of which was ordering me my first ever cocktail (a Vodka Tonic) aboard the Queen Mary in 1981. I know that sounds like a load of crap. But I'll tell you about it someday when I have more time...

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SPICY MEATBALL RAVE-UP



Re: my two previous posts containing Alka-Seltzer commercials, above I've posted what is certainly Alka-Seltzers most famous commercial and probably one of TV's most beloved stupid commercials ever. The "Spicy Meatball" ad first aired in 1969 and, like most classic cinema, was initially considered something of a disappointment. Apparently sales of the antacid decreased as most people thought the ad was for the spaghetti sauce pictured on the table and not the medicine which is loudly touted in the voiceover that closes the ad. Jesus. Aside from that, the ad is notable for being 'self-reflexive', or in the words of modern-day literary criticism "performative". It is about the making of the commercial itself; the scripted commerical becomes the real life predicament of the actor; the use of the props (in this case the meatballs) causes the actual heartburn that makes the product a necessity to the performer; the director and camera assistant are all acutely annoyed at the difficulty the actor is having for a variety of reasons (early on it's revealed that they've gone to at least twenty-eight takes) and thus it can be assumed that they are suffering their own heartburn. Perhaps the crew indulged in an Alka-Seltzer rave-up after wrap, substituting the antacid for the usual beer/wine/vodka party on the camera truck. If so, it is a certainty that a belching contest ensued, the winner probably being the prop guy...

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BING AND JERRY; A LOVE AFFAIR


Bob Hope/Bing Crosby/Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis (DVD)

Below is a quite cool little three-minute made-for-Youtube doc about the origins of the feud between Bing Crosby and Jerry Lewis, said feud being one that I never knew existed. Using three different clips (two interviews and the source material) each separated by about fifteen-to-twenty years in time, the documentarian spins a cautionary tale of show-biz vanity, fragile egos and touchiness about respect between performers of different generations. The event that set off the "phewd" (Winchellism for 'smelly feud') occurred on a 1952 Cerebral Palsy telethon hosted by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, on which Jerry and Dean made a special "surprise" appearance. Jerry was in his mid-twenties at this point--he and Dean had become shockingly, spectacularly famous only a few years earlier--and was clearly ready to take over whatever stage he found himself on with complete impudent authority. His shtick was simply unlike anything anyone had previously seen--tasteless, irreverent and beyond inappropriate in every possible way. Like most "shock" comics, he wasn't entirely accepted by his elders and, while Hope had the good sense to play ball with him, Crosby clearly wasn't having any of it. The results left the show in a shambles, with Crosby looking like a petulant parent and Hope squirming to keep things afloat.  I'll let the little drama unfold on its own.



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Monday, December 15, 2014

GENE WILDER TAKES ALKA-SELTZER



Apropos of the George Raft Alka-Seltzer commericial that I posted (which I posted?) last week, above is a 1960 A/S animation, voiced by Gene Wilder. A more leisurely pace prevailed in those Mad-Menish days, allowing the commercial a full minute of meandering time to play out.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

JOAN CRAWFORD, CREEPY CHANTEUSE


Here's Joan Crawford's disturbing appearance in MGM's 1929 variety-show omnibus, "Hollywood Revue" (for TV showings the title was later amended to "Hollywood Revue of 1929", lest any unsuspecting viewers think that the film was made in 1974). In this segment, Joan sings a highly forgettable period ditty called "Got A Feeling For You" and then goes into a gyrating frenzy of a flapper dance that I find more than a bit terrifying. Indeed, everything about this little clip is a misfire. Something about Joan's performance is off--she's demonic instead of graceful, demanding instead of inviting. The film is basically a recording of what would have been a sort of high-end vaudeville show with one act following another, all of which appear to flop due to the lack of any response--the players are playing to an empty house. The notion of using the camera to connect the performer with the audience appears not to have occurred to anyone--Joan sings not to the movie audience, but to the audience that we know isn't sitting there in the non-existent theater. As a result, she looks left of camera through the whole thing which results in making the viewer constantly want to look over their own shoulder to see who she's singing to (the grip she slept with the previous evening perhaps?)  A dopey quartet appears on stage to take up the slack once she goes into her dance--the male singer takes over the vocal but sounds so much like Joan that it makes me wonder if he wasn't voicing her during her on-camera performance as well. (Though this is before the existence of dubbing, stuff like this was actually done, usually with the voice actor standing off camera saying the lines into their own microphone while the on-camera actor mouthed the words. Hitchcock did this with the actress Anny Ondra in "Blackmail", his first talkie, the reason being that the film was already half-finished as a silent when the decision was made to add sound. Unfortunately, Ondra didn't speak English).

Finally, the number stumbles mercifully to its finish. Crawford leaps onto the piano which is wheeled off camera while they're still singing and playing, leaving us to stare stupidly at a curtain as the last few bars are hammered out. It's hard to believe from stuff like this that King Vidor made "The Crowd" a year earlier, and that Von Stroheim's epic artistry was already years in the past. Jesus.




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Thursday, December 11, 2014

TWO VIEWS OF TWO VERY DIFFERENT GEORGE RAFTS


Before he became famous for turning down the roles that made Humphrey Bogart famous, George Raft was a hoofer of considerable ability. He danced in New York nightclubs of the twenties, dabbling in gangsterism along the way--I think it speaks very well of the 1920s that the times were liberal enough for crime bosses to hire guys who also liked to tap dance. Get a load of his actually quite fancy hoofing from the 1929 movie "Side Street".  And read this quite fascinating Wikipedia entry on Raft's life. The gangster stuff was real--he apparently was always making phone calls to call off hits on fellow actors who'd slept with mob guys girlfriends--and I particularly like the bit where he winds up so on the skids in the 1950s that he becomes a "greeter" (aka maitre'd) at a ganged-up club in Havana. In 1959, Billy Wilder had the temerity to cast him in "Some Like It Hot", in which he good-naturedly spoofed his own long-ago image (much in the way Wilder used Von Stroheim in Sunset Blvd, now that I think about it). And ten years after that, he appeared in the deeply strange Alka Seltzer commerical that I've posted below. Forty years separates these two views of two very different George Rafts.





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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

TAKE A LETTER...



Apropos of my celluloid-based Long Island house search from yesterday, here's the brilliant letter-dictation scene between Groucho and Zeppo from 'Animal Crackers'. Deco-ish as the set of Margaret Dumont's house is, it doesn't match the Freedonia-based mansion she inhabits in 'Duck Soup', which looks an art deco/moderne dream you might have after watching too many Astaire/Rogers movies while ingesting way too much pizza with vodka sauce.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

'TANNED LEGS'--LAGUNA FOR LONG ISLAND

As I am currently working on a period piece (set in the 1940s in a 'Gold Coast' Long Island Mansion), I'm compelled to waste large amounts of time on Youtube in search of...stuff. Like films about Gold Coast Long Island mansions--or at least set in them. The Marx Brothers 'Animal Crackers' has a wonderful version of an art deco GCLIM--it's a set, natch, but reminds me floorplan-wise of an actual GCLIM named "Knole". In my further searches, however, I've stumbled across two dance numbers from a 1929 musical called "Tanned Legs" which is supposed to be set at a seaside resort called "The Breakers". Now, there are two mansions with that name that I know of. One of them is a famous Newport, Rhode Island spread. But there's a GCLIM with the same name. Delighted with my find, I researched this antique musical and, to no surprise at all, found that it was filmed in Laguna Beach, California. Anyway, they're nice numbers, the point of which seems to be that a very staid party is enlivened (scandalized?) by an unexpected bevy of jazzy chorus girls. The film was directed by Marshall Neilan, the great silent director who by now was so on the skids (via the bottle) that he somehow remained uncredited on screen for his work on this movie (perhaps he was too blotto to sign his deal memo?). Somebody finally noticed, however, and apparently added it to the above poster. As with all the other early talkies that I've blogged about in the past, part of the fun of watching films from this era (specifically 1928-30) is witnessing the clunky, impossibly elephantine process that movie-makers found themselves in with the advent of sound. The once-fluid camera can now barely move (they were enclosed in booths so as not to be heard) and you can sense the strain as you watch the belabored efforts of all involved. To me, however,  this gives the early talkies an especially ghostly quality. They are voyeuristic in ways that their makers couldn't have predicted. You are witness to an event--the making of the film--as well as to the nonsensical and charming goings-on on screen.





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Monday, December 8, 2014

AND JOHN CANDY AS THE BEAVER...

[SCTV-0826.JPG]
Here's one of my favorite SCTV sketches, updating life in the Cleaver household twenty years after 'Leave It To Beaver' went off the air. The sketch cruelly mocks actor Hugh Beaumont's (Beaver's father--played by Joe Flarhety) very public struggle with alcoholism, while making reference to the urban legend that Jerry Mathers (the Beaver, natch) was rumored to have been killed in action in Vietnam. In reality, Mathers became a bank manager and later went into real estate before returning to acting (sort of--there were updated 'Beaver' TV movies apparently, mostly in the 80s). Semi-recently, Mathers appeared in a production of 'Hairspray' (playing the Divine created/Fierstein immortalized/Travolta wrecked mother role? Is it possible? More likely would be the host of the dance show...though I prefer to believe it was the former). Tony Dow, who played older brother Wally, became a TV director which seems to have provoked a case of clinical depression--he's made a series of videos designed to shed light on the disease. Weirdest of all is Ken Osmond who played Eddie Haskell (portrayed here by a truculent Dave Thomas) . He became a cop and did twenty years on the LAPD during which time he apparently was shot up quite a bit. Later he too went back to acting and in the 1997 bigscreen "Leave It To Beaver" played Eddie Haskell Sr. But the most interesting fact about Osmond (at least to me) turns out not have been a fact at all; an urban legend circulated in the 70s that he had become rock star Alice Cooper. Once Cooper put that fiction out of its misery, the next that sprung up was that former Eddie Haskell portrayer Ken Osmond had in fact become John Holmes.


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Friday, December 5, 2014

WOULD YOU LIKE SOME...BEEF?

The genius that was John Candy is on full view in the brilliant "3-D HOUSE OF BEEF", from SCTV's early eighties network series.




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Thursday, December 4, 2014

BATTLE OF THE PBS STARS: AN SCTV JOINT

SCTV cast 1981Second City Television is either utterly forgotten by those who only half got it,  or dearly remembered by those who were enamoured with it, beginning with its inception in Canada in the mid seventies and its eventual move to US network TV in the early eighties. When it went network, CBS (think it was them) put them on in some ungodly slot--I believe it was Friday nights beginning at 12:30 AM (thus, Saturday morning). My friends and I never missed it and I recall thinking that the far-too-late hour in which it aired became part of the weird dreamlike surrealism inherent in the show. By the time it was rolling to a close, you were bleary-eyed and punch drunk with laughter and the weirdness of the sketches (and sometime anti-sketches--more than a few were aborted midway through the routine and turned into ruminations on how lousy the sketch was) all seemed to merge. Below is "Battle of the PBS Stars", with Rick Moranis's perfect Dick Cavett impression and Julia Child and Mr. Rogers in a boxing match.




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