Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lubitsch of Arabia


Janaia (Pola Negri) is a breathtakingly beautiful dancer who travels with other performers in a caravan…and who’s attracted the attention of a Bagdad slave trader, Achmed (Paul Biensfeldt).  Achmed has been commissioned by Zuleika (Jenny Hasselqvist), the current favorite in a harem maintained by “The Mighty Sheikh” (Paul Wegener), to procure women for her hubby…because she no longer wants to be the favorite, preferring instead the romantic attentions of Nour-Ed Din (Harry Liedtke), humble (and handsome) clothes merchant.  His Sheikhness, learning of Zuleika’s perfidy, condemns her to death…but she is spared when the Sheikh’s son, Sheikh, Jr. (Carl Clewing), pleads for her life.  Janaia is not so fortunate—the cruel despot bumps off both her and Sheikh, Jr. (they were having a little thing on the side) but before he can add Zuleika and Nour-Ed Din to the body count he is dispatched to the Great Beyond by the hunchbacked Abdullah (Ernst Lubitsch), who’s avenging the murder of Janaia.

All this palace intrigue has been condensed into a fifty-minute cut-down of Sumurun, a 1920 melodrama directed by Ernst Lubitsch before he emigrated to the U.S. and exhibited “the Lubitsch touch.”  (“Sumurun” is the name of the Zuleika character in the original German movie.)  The movie would be released in America the following year and retitled One Arabian Night; the (always reliable) IMDb lists the movie’s running time as a longer eighty-five minutes (another DVD version clocks it at 105).  The 50-minute version is from an Alpha Video release that came out in mid-May.

The shorter running time on the Alpha DVD really hurts the viewing experience, sad to report.  It makes One Arabian Night confusing and often difficult to comprehend, which is a shame because I had heard a good many positive things about the picture and I was looking forward to sitting down with it.  It’s not entirely unrewarding; it’s interesting early Lubitsch (his later themes of infidelity and naughtiness are on full display in this tale based on the pantomime by Friedrich Freksa), and it also showcases the appeal of Pola Negri, who would go on to a prolific career as a silent screen siren.  It was with the success of Night in the U.S. that Mary Pickford was encouraged to invite the director and his star to make movies in Tinsel Town.  Lubitsch would continue to direct classics like Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Ninotchka (1939) until his death in 1947 (his valedictory feature, 1948’s That Lady in Ermine, was assigned to Otto Preminger after Ernst died during production) but Negri, despite box-office hits like Forbidden Paradise (1924—directed by Lubitsch) and Hotel Imperial (1927—the only other Pola film I’ve seen), went back to Europe to work toward the silent era (her thick Polish accent would have been a problem)—only resurfacing in two later American films, Hi Diddle Diddle (1943) and The Moon-Spinners (1964, her final movie).

Sadly, Lubitsch abandoned a promising career in front of the camera with this film (he made cameo appearances in a few of his talkies and in the Ed Sullivan film Mr. Broadway [1933]; he’s also in the trailer for The Shop Around the Corner)—he’s quite good as the sympathetic hunchback who pines for Negri’s character from afar, then later gets an opportunity to be a hero at the end.  I’ve mentioned on the blog before that while I have a tremendous admiration for Ernst as a director his movies just aren’t my particular cup of Orange Pekoe (it’s not him—it’s me) save for To Be or Not to Be (1942), which I will watch at the drop of a hat.  (In Milt Josefsberg’s The Jack Benny Show, he includes an anecdote from his famous boss in which Lubitsch “acted out” how he wanted Benny to play Josef Tura in To Be…so the director never got performing completely out of his system.)  Lubitsch fans will want to check this one out if they haven’t already; many thanks to my friend Brian Kray at Alpha Video for providing me with the screener for this review.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

“Is it bigger than a breadbox?”


The night that I wrestled with the meshuggeneh desktop computer—the one that eventually had to be hauled into the repair shop so that the hard drive could be replaced—I was stuck for something to do while the diagnostic tests were running, so I grabbed the bedroom TV remote and started in with the channel surfing.  Imagine my delight when I learned that DISH has added a new channel to its lineup: BUZZR (channel 245), the Fremantle Media-owned subchannel that offers up classic game shows to those couch potatoes jonesing for a fix of Match Game or Family Feud.  Wikipedia says that DISH added BUZZR in May of this year but I’m still a little skeptical about that only because I go “round the horn” on a frequent basis if I can’t sleep at night, looking to see if I can find anything that won’t require a lengthy time investment.  It seems to me I would have come across BUZZR sooner, but…what the hey.

I’m not a big game show fan as a rule.  I watched a lot of them as a kid, and then eventually grew to understand that most of them are vacuous, insipid, and a clear threat to my logging as many classic movies under my belt before I’m summoned to that Great Movie Palace in the Sky.  Still, I have a soft spot for the panel shows of the classic TV era like What’s My Line?, I’ve Got a Secret, and To Tell the Truth…because there are celebrities on these vintage telecasts that are idolized by your humble narrator like Fred Allen (a panelist on Line from 1954 until his death in 1956) and Henry Morgan (Secret).  The Game Show Network used to run these repeats in the 1990s until Sony’s contract ran out…but by that time, GSN was starting to shift toward their own homegrown programming anyway.  (This resulted in people of my vintage reclining in our porch rocking chairs and grumbling about how great things used to be “back in the day.”  “Remember when AMC and TVLand used to be good?  Those were the days…”)

I can’t quite put my finger on it…but something tells me that unless you subscribe to one of DISH’s major packages (America’s Top 200, America’s Top 250, etc.) BUZZR isn’t going to be around Rancho Yesteryear for long.  (We have the Flex package, see, which—thanks to member of the TDOY faithful Barry—allows us to get channels we’ll actually watch and insulates the ‘rents from any potential danger resulting from my succumbing to The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ withdrawal and running after them with a butcher knife.  Okay, I am kidding about that.  Nobody runs in my family unless we’re chased.)  So I am currently DVRing every episode of Truth, Secret, and Line that I can lay my hands on; it will make marvelous filler for when I’m dubbing off movies to discs.  That’s three down and seven to go…Arlene?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Buried Treasures: Little Orphant Annie (1918)


The members of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear faithful comprise a very erudite crowd (okay, you can take your hands out of your pants pockets now—I’m not asking for money) and they’re no doubt aware that if I were to mention “James Whitcomb Riley” their immediate reaction would be to think of his famous 1885 poem Little Orphant Annie.  Even on the off-chance that some cartooners would respond “Who’s J.W. Riley and what does he do when he’s not tending bar?” they’re familiar with the line in poem that reads “An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you ef you don't watch out!”  The legendary work—a favorite of mine when I was a wee lad—is essentially a morality lesson advising children to mind their parents and other authority figures lest they be snatched away by supernatural forces.  Yeah.  Nothing particularly frightening there.  (“Mother…Father?  Remember that old bedwetting problem of mine?  It’s returned with a vengeance.”)

James Whitcomb Riley, circa 1913
The rights to many of Riley’s works were purchased by motion picture companies in the teens to adapt to the silver screen, and it was the Selig Polyscope Company (a studio founded by Colonel William Selig that started out in the business making travelogues and industrial shorts) who expressed the major interest in bringing the poet’s literary contributions to theatergoers, notably with A Hoosier Romance in 1918 (sadly, this is a lost film).  The studio followed this with an adaptation of Little Orphant Annie that same year—the feature would avail itself of footage of J.W. shot as part of a project involving the state of Indiana’s centennial celebration; “the Hoosier poet” was filmed telling local children the history of the state outside his home in Indianapolis, and what resulted was released to movie screens in June of 1916 (Riley himself passed away a month later).  Alas and alack, Little Orphant Annie would be the last feature produced by Selig Polyscope; it was previewed as a Selig title, then went into general release under the banner of the Pioneer Film Corporation and eventually found a home with World Pictures.  Annie was re-released in 1926 but despite the dedicated efforts of film historian-preservationist Eric Grayson, he couldn’t find any info on the studio responsible for the reissue.

Eric Grayson, a.k.a. "Dr. Film," circa 2016
Back in August of 1916, Grayson—known to his intimates and creditors as “Dr. Film”—initiated a Kickstarter project to restore Little Orphant Annie using a combination of 16mm prints and a surviving 35mm nitrate print (which was already experiencing deterioration).  (This released version, by the way, is the longest version commercially available.)  It had been a dream project of Eric’s for many years, but he was continually stymied in his efforts to generate any attention.  “No one was particularly interested in preserving the film,” he notes, “because it was available on DVD in the form of a cut, murky dupe print that was out of sequence.  The film was being unfairly maligned in the marketplace because it was considered substandard.”  Grayson knew that if the film were to be restored, 2016 would be the opportune time to do so because it would not only coincide with Indiana’s bicentennial but mark the centennial of James Whitcomb Riley’s passing.  Furthermore, the Library of Congress offered the use of two 16mm prints as well as the remaining 35mm footage.  No sooner was“nitrate won’t wait” uttered than the effort to pass around the Kickstarter tin cup got underway, generating $10,647 (more than meeting its $10,000 goal) from 227 backers.

The finished restoration was premiered at a showing in Delphi, Indiana in December of 2016, and the DVD version that was the reward for my contribution arrived in the House of Yesteryear a little over a week ago.  Here’s an example of the benefits of clean living: I received both the DVD and Blu-ray (Eric explained it was cheaper to send both) of the restored movie, so that was a pleasant little bonus.  In the booklet that accompanies the combo pack he references a previous post at his Dr. Film blog by observing: “Those of you who hold this print up against restorations like Casablanca will be disappointed.  While Casablanca has 35mm materials, including nitrate negatives, still available from the year of release, there is no negative extant for Little Orphant Annie.  The surviving prints are all from the 1926 reissue made to capitalize on Colleen Moore’s stardom.”  I knew going in that this refurbishment wasn’t going to be pristine…but what I watched this weekend surpassed any expectations.  Eric and the folks who participated in this restoration have done an exemplary job—the movie looks simply amazing.

This screen capture from the movie can't hide Colleen Moore's heterochromia.  (Oh, it only sounds dirty -- it means she has one brown eye and one blue eye.)
Little Orphant Annie is believed to be the earliest surviving feature starring Colleen Moore, who would enjoy great stardom in the 1920s with such vehicles as Flaming Youth (1923).  Selig Polyscope had cast Moore in the earlier A Hoosier Romance, and had planned to make the actress “the Riley Girl” in subsequent productions but the closing of the studio put the kibosh on that.  “It's easy to see why she became such a popular star,” Eric observed at the time of the Kickstarter project, “since she has a magnetic presence that keeps the viewer's interest all through the film.”  The Little Orphant Annie restoration features an audio commentary from Moore biographer Jeff Codori (he also contributes a history of the film in the liner note booklet) and additional commentary from Grayson and fellow film historian Glory-June Greiff on the film’s restoration.  (In addition, Greiff recites Riley’s magnus opus in a brief segment…on a stage where the poet himself once stood.)  Contributing the marvelous score to the refurbished version of Annie is the hardest-working man in the silent movie music business, Ben Model.

Annie tells her tales.
The plot of the movie is a simple morality play that borrows elements from both the poem and an 1882 story J.W. Riley wrote about the woman who was the inspiration for “Little Orphant Annie”—Mary Alice Smith (Riley’s story is titled “Where is Mary Alice Smith?”).  Young Annie (Jean Stone) acquires her “orphant” status at a young age when her mother dies suddenly and she’s sent to the County Orphants…er, Orphans Home.  As she matures into womanhood, Annie (Moore) must leave the home and she’s placed in the care of her Uncle Tomps (Harry Lonsdale) and Aunt Elizabeth (Lillian Hayward)—both of whom suffer from serious deficiencies in the parenting department (Annie is subjected to constant physical and mental abuse).  Her saviors are a neighboring farmer named Dave Johnson (Tom Santschi) and Squire (Lafe McKee) and Mrs. Goode (Eugenie Besserer); the Goodes (subtle—isn’t it?) take the unwanted waif in (they always have “room for one more”) while Dave is the recipient of a crush from Annie (she often envisions him as a “knight in shining armor”).

Directed by Colin Campbell from a scenario by Gilson Willets, Little Orphant Annie is a most entertaining blend of fantasy and melodrama—the otherworldly elements (depictions of witches, goblins, and other nasties who reside in Annie’s vivid imagination) are doggone impressive for a film of that era (Grayson observes in a featurette that while this sort of thing has now become effortless through CGI, the time-consuming process needed to render this kind of celluloid magic in that era was the very definition of extraordinary), and as I’ve previously stated, the entire presentation (movie, extras, etc.) is polished and would be the envy of any home video release.  “If it hadn't been for Kickstarter, this wouldn't have happened,” Eric declares in the featurette…and speaking only for myself, I’m glad I was able to contribute a few shekels because the end result was worth it.

Monday, June 19, 2017

From beautiful downtown Burbank…


When Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In premiered as a one-shot NBC-TV special on September 9, 1967, several of the show’s best remembered cast members were already on board: Judy Carne, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley, and Ruth Buzzi, to be precise.  Larry Hovis also appeared in the special, taking a sabbatical from his regular gig as Sgt. Andrew Carter on Hogan’s Heroes (he would return to Laugh-In later in the show’s run, along with his Heroes castmate Richard Dawson), as did Barbara Feldon—who might have become a Laugh-In regular if her Get Smart duties hadn’t limited her participation to a handful of the early telecasts.  What you may not know (then again, if you’ve read my Facebook compadre Hal Erickson’s book you might) is that Ken Berry was also in the pilot.  Just imagine.  If they had kept Berry in the cast, we might have been spared Mayberry R.F.D.  (Just can’t catch a break.)

If you’re curious as to my sudden interest in Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, it’s because I received an e-mail last month from my good friend Michael Krause at Foundry Communications that the iconic comedy hour—which aired over NBC from January 22, 1968 to March 12, 1973, and was television’s #1 show in the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons—has made its home video debut in a ginormous DVD collection available from Time Life and Proven Entertainment.  All 140 telecasts are present (including the final season, which until they recently resurfaced on the Decades channel had long been MIA) and accounted for in this 38-disc set, along with scads of bodacious extras and a 32-page collectible booklet—Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series can be ordered right now at www.timelife.com/laughin: the tariff is $249.95 (for the budget-minded, there's a 40-episode "Best of" set priced at $99.95).  (Fans of the show have my permission to discard their “Best of” Rhino DVDs they may own—eBay operators are standing by.)

The cast of Laugh-In (1968-69)
Like most couch potatoes of my generation, I dropped in on the show’s legendary “cocktail party” from time to time…though admittedly, it was in the show’s declining years, when most of its famous cast members had moved on to bigger and better things and Laugh-In was having to rely on the high-wattage comedy contributions of Moosie Drier.  I’m more familiar with the whittled down half-hour version of the program which aired for a time on Nick at Nite (the series’ original hour-long syndication package consisted of 70 hours culled from the first three seasons, along with the pilot and a few Season 4 installments) but to be honest—I never could figure out what all the fuss was about.  I think Laugh-In’s reputation for hip irreverence is somewhat inflated; creator-producer George Schlatter describes it as “a free fall of television without a net.  It was dangerous.  It was controversial.  It was totally unpredictable and always funny.”  Well, not really.  It was little more than sped-up vaudeville hokum—a mixture of the irreverence of Olsen and Johnson’s Hellzapoppin’ and the technological wackiness of television comedy innovator Ernie Kovacs.  (Schlatter was and still is married to Jolene Brand, a cast member of Kovacs’ show.)

Creator George Schlatter (holding sign) and the Laugh-In writers
Laugh-In was critically praised for its “representation of the counterculture” …but in this superb article by Kliph Nesteroff (who recycles some of this material in his indispensable The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy), the argument is convincingly made that the show was nothing more than The Establishment’s idea of The Counterculture (if you read Kliph’s piece, you’ll learn that Laugh-In head writer Paul Keyes played a large role in making Richard Milhous Nixon palatable to TV audiences).  “Laugh-In is commonly considered a reflection of the late sixties youth sensibility, but closer examination reveals a much different picture,” Kliph writes.  “It was, in essence, an establishment show, profiting from the anti-establishment sentiment running through America.  Moderated by the comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, Laugh-In was old in style, but draped in the popular fashion of the day.  It effectively garnered a genuine hippie aesthetic, but any actual connection to the counterculture was mostly smoke and mirrors.  The bulk of Laugh-In consisted of eye-catching vaudeville bits that mostly ignored the war, the riots and the protest.  It embraced the look and sound of the hippies and had no problem making references to getting high, but generally glossed over political issues.”

"Sock it...to me?"
This assessment goes a long way in explaining why I experienced disappointment with Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In as I got older: I was looking for something that was never there in the first place.  So I need to temper my criticism from the previous paragraphs with this caveat: if you’re looking for the biting political satire of such 60s shows as That Was the Week That Was or The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, you’re not going to find it on Laugh-In; its humor was more of the toothless Jay Leno-Tonight Show variety.  (In fact, if you read Nesteroff’s article in its entirety you’ll learn that hosts Rowan and Martin eventually bought out producer Schlatter’s interest in the program because the two stars “were very heavily into Nixon.  They actually had a quota of Daniel Ellsberg jokes, a quota of anti-New York Times jokes, and a weekly segment on the [left-wing] distortion of the news.”)  Yet if you look at the series through the prism as one of those classic television variety hours that they sadly don’t make any more, Laugh-In can be pretty amusing from time to time.  (Television to me has become a vast repository of “reality shows” …which you can actually lay the blame for at Schlatter’s feet for creating the successful Real People in 1979.)

Ruth Buzzi, Jo Anne Worley and Goldie Hawn in a Season 3 sketch
The “big names” on the show had already vamoosed during the period I watched Laugh-In although Lily Tomlin was still on the show; she joined in the show’s 1969-70 season, and became phenomenally popular with her characterizations of Ernestine (“Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?”), Edith Ann (“And that’s the truth…thbthh!!!”), and Mrs. Earbore, the “Tasteful Lady.”  Tomlin probably enjoyed the biggest post-Laugh-In career—she garnered an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 1975 film Nashville, which also featured Laugh-In alum Henry Gibson—save for Goldie Hawn, who took home her Academy Award trophy (for Best Supporting Actress in 1968’s Cactus Flower) while she was still performing on the show.  (I’ve watched a few of the early telecasts featuring Goldie, and was amused that her persona of the giggly blonde ditz took a show or two to develop—in her early appearances she plays it perfectly straight.  Also hooty: Hawn was on the show at the same time her Private Benjamin co-star Eileen Brennan was also a regular.)  Laugh-In featured some truly funny comic actresses: Judy Carne (the “Sock it to me” girl who would be doused with water or dropped through a trap door whenever she uttered the show’s phrase), Ruth Buzzi (“I just want to swing!”), and Jo Anne Worley (“Bo-ring!”), who only has to start in with that infectiously goofy laugh to make me chuckle (“Is that a chicken joke?”). 

Buzzi and Arte Johnson as Gladys & Tyrone
On the distaff side, there was Henry Gibson (the poetry guy with the flower), Gary Owens (the old-style announcer with his ever-present hand cupped to his ear), Alan Sues (sidesplitting as “Uncle Al, the kiddie’s pal”), and Larry Hovis (I loved his David Brinkley-like newscaster).  I didn’t find Arte Johnson as hilarious as some of my contemporaries (his German soldier shtick—“Verrry interesting”—got old quickly) though I did like his interactions with Buzzi’s Gladys Ormphby (“Care for a walnetto?”).  (Actually, the funniest thing about the old man was that his official name was “Tyrone F. Horneigh” …though they had to pronounce the last name as “Hor-NIGH” for obvious reasons.)  And I still have a soft spot for Dave Madden, who made me titter as the dour deadpan guy who threw confetti as a reaction to punchlines…because his “Reuben Kincaid” on The Partridge Family is one of my role models.

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In has been released to DVD to coincide with the commemoration of the show’s 50th anniversary, and while I couldn’t score a screener of the set I did receive a wonderful consolation prize that I’ll discuss in a bit more detail in a future post.  What I could sample was a delightful surprise in that the show still manages to be entertaining despite the inevitable dating of the material, and I would not hesitate to recommend a purchase for true Laugh-In diehards—it’s timeless TV.  (You bet your sweet bippy!)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Well—that was easy…


Many thanks to commenter Rick Robinson and a few other Facebook denizens for their moral support during The Great Computer Crisis of 2017.  I took it into Reboot Computer Friday morning—shortly after they opened—and they had the hard drive replaced and ready to rock ‘n’ roll three hours later.  (Same day service, baby!)  If you live in the Classic City (Athens) or in the surrounding area, I’d highly recommend them—we’re probably going to take one of our troublesome laptops in later when we have a few extra shekels.  Thrilling Days of Yesteryear will resume as normal Monday, so make an appointment, hoo-kay?  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

When it rains… (I get wet)


This hasn’t been the best of weeks in recent memory, cartooners.  I was doing a few chores on my desktop computer Monday afternoon when the fershlugginer thing decided it had had enough and whipped out the Dreaded Blue Screen of Death.  I waited until it finished its snit and rebooted…only it wouldn’t reboot.

I shut it down, and later that evening (much later—we’re talking after midnight) I turned it back on to see if it had worked out its issues…and though it seemed to perform much more slowly than it had previously, it eventually returned to the land of the living.  Its visit here, however, was brief; it froze up again that afternoon (dispensing with the Blue Screen) and from that moment on, anytime I tried to resurrect it the computer flatly refused to cooperate.  I tried two resets…nothing.  I ran a series of diagnostic tests, and when it received a failing grade on the hard disk portion of the exam I started getting that pit-of-my-stomach feeling that this was not good.  Against my better judgment, I decided to restore it to its original factory settings (I would have backed up my files, but I couldn’t even get past the “willkommen” login) and danced a gleeful jig when that seemed to do the trick.  My celebratory dance came to a screeching halt when I got an error message that read: “Just between you, me, and the printer, my friend—your hard disk needs repaired or replaced.”

Not the kind of confession that I need at this point in life, by the way…but I will swallow hard and take it in to the computer doctor by the end of this week.  If you were asking yourself by now—“Does this mean that silent movie you were going to review won’t be up today?” the answer is “Affirmative.”  And since the Crime Does Not Pay series that I do each week in this space on Fridays relies heavily on screen grabs…there’ll be a delay in that, too.

However—I am working on some items that will not require the participation of my desktop assistant, and I’ll roll those out next week.  Until that time, be excellent to one another.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

From the DVR: 3 Ring Circus (1954)


In July of 2013, I contributed an essay to a “Dynamic Duos in Classic Film” blogathon…and the subject(s) of my text was the immortal team of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, whose vehicles were among the many classic comedies responsible for my lifelong love of old movies…and making me the well-adjusted adult I am today.  (I may have to edit that last part out later.)  In the post, I discussed all of Martin & Lewis’ films save for two: Scared Stiff (1953) and 3 Ring Circus (1954); I left out Stiff only because I had previously posted a detailed piece on that remake of The Ghost Breakers (1940), and Circus got excised only because I wasn’t able to track down a copy to refresh my memory in time for the ‘thon (I had seen the movie only once—many, many moons ago).  “[F] or what it’s worth, I don’t remember it being very good,” I observed in the essay.  Having had an opportunity to re-watch Circus—it aired in April of this year courtesy of The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™, as part of a night-long feting of Zsa Zsa Gabor—I need to clarify that comment.  It’s not as terrible as I remember.  (But it’s still the weakest of the Martin-Lewis oeuvre, in my opinion.)

Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin
Pete Nelson (Dean Martin) and Jerome Hotchkiss (Jerry Lewis) have demobbed from the Army, and seek employment with the Clyde Brent Circus—Jerry’s already got a letter (thanks to the G.I. Bill) promising him a job as an apprentice lion tamer (he really wants to be a clown, and he’s banking on the lion taming position as a doorway to that).  The outfit is owned by ringmaster Jill Brent (Joanne Dru), who has her manager Sam Morley (Wallace Ford) assign the pair menial tasks like washing elephants and picking up trash.  Pete soon attracts the attention of trapeze artist Saadia (Gabor), the show’s star (and unfortunately, she knows it all too well), who quickly makes Pete her kept man…much to the jealousy of Jill, who’s become quite fond of Pete.

Jerry soon gets a promotion, too; he’s drafted to replace one of the clowns who’s taken ill—but he quickly runs afoul of Puffo (Gene Sheldon), the circus’ big draw in the clown department, who resents Jerry’s innate ability to garner laughs and love from the crowd.  (Puffo also has a bit of a problem where the bottle is concerned—I was calling him “Wino the Clown” after a fashion.)  When Puffo gives an “either-them-or-me” ultimatum to Jill, she gives him his walking papers and promotes Jerry to full-time made-up mirthmaker.  But the relationship between “Jerrico the Wonder Clown” and his pal Pete becomes strained, particularly when Jill leaves the circus after Pete refuses to shut down the lucrative gambling concession he’s initiated on the fairway.

3 Ring Circus is acknowledged by many to be the catalyst in what ultimately dissolved the partnership between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  If this were a courtroom trial, the movie would be Exhibit A—Circus is little more than a vanity showcase for Jerry with Dean merely along for the ride.  It was a troubled production, and the early script drafts (the screenplay is credited to Don “Congo Bill” McGuire, a pal of Jerry’s who would direct Lewis’s first solo film, The Delicate Delinquent [1957]) featured, in Lewis’ words, “ten minutes of my character, then ten minutes of Dean’s, before the two of us even met.”  There was a lot of re-writing (Jerry: “[W]hen you have a Martin and Lewis picture without the 'and,' you don't have much”) but McGuire and Lewis were unable to get around Circus’ chief weakness (something that’s prevalent in both The Stooge [1953] and The Caddy [1953]): Martin’s character is an unlikable wanker.  “There was no sense in me being in that picture at all,” Dean would later observe of Circus.  (I sympathize with the guy.)

Elsa Lanchester in the hit Broadway musical Goodbye, Dignity!

Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joanne Dru
The cast in Circus is solid for the most part; I’ll watch Wallace Ford in just about anything, and I have a soft spot for Joanne Dru cause she’s a fellow Mountaineer (shout-out to Logan, baby!); I kind of wish TDOY fave Elsa Lanchester had more to do (she’s wasted in a fleeting “bearded lady” bit) though Sig Ruman makes the most of his brief appearance as the lion tamer who puts apprentice Jerry through his paces.  Zsa Zsa plays…well, Zsa Zsa, really—she’s effective as the villainess of the piece but she wasn’t particularly laudatory about her participation (Gabor also didn’t get along with my Logan gal Joanne, and was two-timing husband George Sanders during production by dallying with Porfirio Rubirosa): “I played a temperamental trapeze artist:  I wore black tights, long black stockings, high wooden shoes.  I was always ill at ease in this costume:  I have too voluptuous a figure for such attire.”  (Reminds me of that joke of Martin’s in Scared Stiff: “Honey, if you’re an average girl I’ve been dating boys…”) 

I wish I had a better screen grab of this...but Kathleen Freeman has a bit as a custard customer who winds up wearing the product.  (Is this the first time she and Jerry appeared together onscreen?  I'll bet it is.)

What I found so amusing about Gabor and Gene Sheldon’s characters (Gene is Puffo the Clown) is that they are detestable prima donnas, and I’m curious to know whether this was the norm in the ol’ circus game (“That Emmett Kelly is a real dick!”) or if screenwriter McGuire had someone in Hollywood in mind.  Speaking of circus, the real-life Clyde Beatty organization stands in for the film’s fictional “Clyde Brent’; it wasn’t the only motion picture to use the Beatty big top as background in 1954—I’m thinking, of course, of Ring of Fear.  (Circus director Joseph Pevney complained to producer Hal Wallis when Wallis only sprang to build one circus ring for the movie, and finally the cheapskate capitulated to pay for the remaining rings.  That generosity ultimately led to the movie’s title—in pre-production it was known as Big Top.)

Because 3 Ring Circus figures mostly as a movie that gives Jerry Lewis carte blanche (a little French for his fans) to live out his fantasies as another Chaplin (he even mentions in Dean and Me [A Love Story] that “I’d wanted to play a clown ever since I’d seen my idol Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 picture The Circus”) the real laughs in this picture come few and far between.  The funniest moment for me arrives toward the end, where Jerry and the circus are performing at an orphans’ benefit…and try as he might, he can’t seem to make one little girl with leg braces laugh.  His inability to make the little handicapped girl chortle brings on the waterworks in “Jerrico” …and that’s when the little tyke starts enjoying herself in jovial mirth.  She probably wouldn’t think it was so damn funny if she was able to gaze into the future and the comedian’s legendary cinematic abortion The Day the Clown Cried (1972)—a film jokingly described by one of the Chapo Trap House guys as “if the Holocaust is happening to you, all you can do is laugh…if you can’t collaborate.”  (Seriously, the first thing I said when I saw that po-faced little tyke was “Clearly she’s not French.”)

Sandy Descher as the little girl who figures out what many will learn in life: solo Jerry Lewis t'aint funny, McGee.  (I keep hearing Bob Hope in My Favorite Brunette (1947): "This kid's gonna grow up to be a sponsor.")
The hilarious thing was that after I finished watching this movie I kept saying to myself “I’ve seen that kid somewhere.”  I know this is going to sound like I’m making this up, but I then went out to the living room and Mom was watching Them! (1954) from the DVR.  Bam!  I remembered it was Sandy Descher, the little girl who shouts out the movie’s title when a whiff of “formic acid” reminds her that some ginormous ants killed her fambly.

3 Ring Circus has yet to officially surface on DVD (there are a few Mom-and-Pop sources offering up a non-sanctioned print), and the reason for which depends on who’s being asked.  There’s speculation that it’s that old Digital Video Recording bugaboo of music rights (which is sort of odd, since they are only two musical numbers in this movie—It’s a Big, Wide Wonderful World and Hey, Punchinello [by the Buttons and Bows team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans]—and they’re both pretty meh), and the (always reliable) IMDb mentions that a pair of scribes, George Beck and Samuel Locke, filed an infringement lawsuit against Paramount and producer Wallis for not using their original script.  Others have posited that the sluggish sales of Paramount Home Video’s previous Martin-Lewis DVD collections scared Paramount away from releasing Circus (though this doesn’t explain why the movie wasn’t on those sluggish volumes in the first place).  If it’s an issue as to whether the proper film elements have survived, the print that was unspooled on TCM that night was darn right sparkly.  So if a DVD release isn’t in the cards, I hope Dean & Jerry fans grabbed this one for their collection.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Back to the ol’ salt lick


I apologize for the truncation on the blog last week; I had a dandy entry lined up for Thursday’s Silent Movie Spotlight, and because I wasn’t able to produce an entry in TDOY’s weekly examination of the Crime Does Not Pay series, this means that blog godmother S.Z. (World O’Crap alumnus) probably went out and hit up a couple of liquor stores.  (That’s a little Facebook joke, son.)

About a week or so back, I had an appointment with the endocrinologist…and he told me he thought it was kosher to start taking Metformin for my diabetes (he was certain they wouldn’t mess with my kidneys or anything).  Which was a most encouraging thing to hear, because insulin is not cheap.  They ease you into taking the Metformin; you down a pill a day for four days, then increase it to two a day for another four days…and then eventually take three pills a day.  I was two days into the three-pill regimen when I woke up one morning and just didn’t feel right.  I had nausea fit to beat the band, and a lot of light-headed dizziness.

I suspected right off this was due to the Metformin (I did a little research into the side effects…only I had to do this online because my copy of Stacia’s Big Scary Medical Book was apparently repossessed during the 2016 election) but I was also a little concerned because my symptoms eerily mirrored those that occurred during my little misadventure in 2010.  I gave the endocrinologist’s a ring to explain the situation…and they advised me to stop taking the pills immediately, necessitating a return to the insulin.  (An expense I need, by the way, like a moose needs a hat rack.)

So I took a little mini vacation to get the “poison” out of my system, and as such it’s B.A.U. here at the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear blog.  Again, mea culpa for taking so long to give you the heads-up.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From the DVR: Tomorrow (1972)


H.T. Bookwright (Jeff Williams) was on trial for the shooting death of a young no-account named Buck Thorpe (Dick Dougherty), who was shot while attempting to run off with Bookwright’s daughter.  Bookwright’s lawyer (Peter Masterson), a man named Douglas, was fairly sure the jury would acquit his client on self-defense (gotta stand your ground where family is concerned, son) …but he hadn’t counted on one holdout—a cotton farmer named Jackson Fentry (Robert Duvall), who refuses to vote for acquittal.  Why?  Douglas looks further into the matter, and learns that Fentry should never have been seated as a jurist in the first place.

Olga Bellin, Robert Duvall
For the explanation why, we flashback to Fentry’s life from many years previous.  Jackson is hired by the father of Isham Russell (Richard McConnell) to be the caretaker of the family’s sawmill during the winter…and on the morning of Christmas Eve, Fentry prepares to set out for his father’s farm when he discovers a young woman passed out from hunger not far from his shack.  She’s Sarah Thorpe Eubanks (Olga Bellin), pregnant and homeless after being abandoned by her husband and shunned by her family.  Fentry asks her to stay in the boiler shack he calls temporary home (the Russells are planning to build him a permanent dwelling come spring) until she delivers the baby…and their friendship eventually blossoms into a romance, one where Fentry and Sarah tie the knot despite her already being married.

In 1973, Robert Duvall received the first of his seven Academy Award acting nominations for his supporting turn as consigliere Tom Hagen in The Godfather (1972).  (Duvall would eventually win a trophy for his performance as a veteran country music singer-songwriter in 1983’s Tender Mercies…though some have persuasively argued he should have won it for the title role in 1997’s The Apostle.)  I’d be willing to gamble, however, that Bob would have preferred his inaugural Oscar nom be for his outstanding work as Jackson Fentry in Tomorrow (1972), a performance that he has singled out in several interviews as one of his personal favorites.  The story goes that Duvall based Fentry’s unusual accent (from the information presented in the film, Fentry is a Mississippian…though I’m sure some natives would take exception to this) on a man he encountered walking the foothills of the Ozarks.  Listening to Duvall’s speech patterns (I particularly enjoy how he pronounces the woman’s name as SAY-ruh as in “Marry me, Sarah”) reminds me of that kid in Swing Blade (1996—Duvall has a small role in this one, too): “I like the way you talk.”

Duvall
A soft-spoken man with limited emotional reserve, the stoic Jackson Fentry surpasses expectations by reaching out to a woman who’s been kicked around by life; Sarah, who’s not used to being allowed a voice in any kind of situation, relates how she lost her mother at an early age and that her existence has been dominated by men insensitive to her needs from that moment on.  Fentry is the man she’s sorely needed to bind her emotional wounds—on that initial Christmas Eve morning, he purchases some hard candy for her as a Christmas gift, and is determined to take care of her after the arrival of the baby.  Taciturn for most of the film—he speaks only when it’s necessary—Fentry expresses unbridled love and joy in the scenes where he’s taken on the responsibility to raise Sarah’s son (Johnny Mask) …a happiness that, sadly, will be short-lived.

Bellin
Written by William Faulkner as a short story published in 1940, Tomorrow was fashioned into a play by Horton Foote (who won screenplay Oscars for two of Duvall’s films, To Kill a Mockingbird [1962] and Mercies) that was originally presented on CBS’ Playhouse 90 in 1960 (with Richard Boone and Kim Stanley).  Foote would rewrite and expand his presentation for a production that ran for 25 performances at the HB Playwrights Foundation Theatre in Greenwich Village in 1968; it starred Duvall and Olga Bellin, who reprised their roles for the film directed by Broadway veteran Joseph Anthony.  Tomorrow was Bellin’s feature film debut…and her swan song; she purportedly did not take direction well from Anthony, and decided to return to stage work until her death in 1987 from cancer.  (Olga’s celluloid resume is sort of spotty, though she did guest star in such TV classics as Route 66 and Naked City.)

At the time of its initial release, Tomorrow barely made a blip on the radar of moviegoers: New York Times critic Vincent Canby wasn’t particularly laudatory, noting “Even if the movie's intentions are decent, as reflected in the accurate look of the production, filmed in Mississippi, the effect is mostly patronizing.”  The movie got a bit more exposure when it was re-released in 1982, but for the longest time it was a difficult film to track down (a DVD released by Homevision in 2004 quickly went OOP…thankfully B2mp brought it to Blu-ray in 2015).  I first saw it on IFC in the late 90s back when those letters stood for “Independent Film Channel” (since being bought by AMC, both it and The Sundance Channel have strayed vastly from their “independent film” mission to become AMC-Lite) so when I saw it on the schedule of The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ recently I was eager to possess it (my precious).

Sudie Bond
As a person who’ll readily admit to not being particularly enamored of a lot of William Faulkner’s work, Tomorrow is one of my favorite adaptations.  I love how director Anthony chose to shoot the film in black-and-white to emphasize the harsh, rural setting, and Duvall’s performance is a marvel (I’ve noticed a few critics have emphasized that deciphering his thick accent can be a chore for some…which worries me, because I never had a problem).  One of my favorite character actors, Sudie Bond, also does splendid work as the midwife who provides Fentry with support and assistance.  Some viewers might find Tomorrow challenging because it’s mostly dialogue-driven (it also takes some sleuthing figuring out how the scenes in the beginning connect with the rest of the movie) and devoid of blowing things up real good, but the characters are so vividly drawn that I’m always filled with regret when the closing credits run.  I agree with Randy Miller III at DVD Talk when he observes “Tomorrow is a buried treasure that's unquestionably more compelling than any simple write-up can make it sound.”

Friday, June 2, 2017

Crime Does Not Pay #6: “The Perfect Set-Up” (02/01/36)


The two gentlemen scribes responsible for last week’s stirring Crime Does Not Pay saga, Hit-and-Run Driver (1935)—Robert Lees and Frederic I. Rinaldo—are back again with a tale directed by Edward Cahn:  The Perfect Set-Up (1936).  Heck, they’re getting the entire band back together because actor William Tannen also returns as the MGM Reporter identified only as…Jim.

JIM: Ladies and gentlemen…as the MGM Reporter, it’s been my duty to present case histories of that endless book of proof, Crime Does Not Pay

Now available for Kindle and Nook.  (And really, what’s “it’s been my duty” nonsense?  You’re paid to do this.)


JIM: I would like Captain of Detectives Hewitt to add another chapter to that book…he will tell you the story of Alan Saunders, one of the most unusual criminals of our time…as he knows it…
HEWITT: Thanks, Jim…

“…but if I’m going to be helping you with that book, that goddamn advance check had better be in my mailbox by tomorrow morning.”  He’s a little unrecognizable clean-shaven, but the actor-writer playing Hewitt is Frank Shannon—fondly remembered here at Rancho Yesteryear as “Dr. Zarkov” from the Flash Gordon serials hat trick (Flash Gordon [1936], Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars [1938], and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe [1940]).  I always get a giggle whenever I spot Shannon in a non-Zarkov role, like his turn as “Sir John Mansfield” in The Bride’s Play (1922).


HEWITT: …I believe this case will be a great lesson to those who feel dissatisfied with life because success does not come easily to them…Saunders was a brilliant boy…when he graduated with top honors from a large technical school, his teachers predicted a great future for him…but times were hard, and the best he could get for himself was testing the finished product of a large radio factory…

The young man who strays off the straight-and-narrow path is played by William “Bill” Henry, an MGM contract player you might have seen in such flicks as The Thin Man (1934—as creepy Gilbert Wynant), China Seas (1935), and Tarzan Escapes (1936).  He was also a member-in-good-standing of director John Ford’s stock company, with appearances in the likes of The Last Hurrah (1958) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).  (Of interest to the TDOY faithful are two appearances in Mayberry R.F.D., covered here previously on the blog: “Driver’s Education” and “Millie, the Secretary.”)  As Saunders, Henry instructs his fellow factory prole (unidentified at the [always reliable] IMDb) that they should “check one of the tubes” when a worker named “Jim” (another unidentified actor) approaches him and, after asking how things are going, tells him to “keep up the good work.”


ALAN: My boss…we graduate from the same class—only I was valedictorian and he barely managed to scrape through
EMPLOYEE: Well, what do you expect?  His father’s a big stockholder in the company!

“Welcome to the meritocracy, pallie!”

ALAN: Yeah…the lucky stiff…if I had his money, I’d…
EMPLOYEE: You’d do what…?
ALAN: I’d do all the things I can’t on my measly salary…


“Food…clothing…shelter…you know, the little luxuries in life.”  Alan’s co-worker tells him to put a sock in it because he’s just spotted the president of the company headed their way.  (The IMDb draws a blank on the actor playing this guy, too.)

NELSON: Oh, Saunders…
ALAN: Yes, sir?
NELSON: I’ve been looking over that television screen idea of yours…it certainly is novel…

“That’s where I got the idea—from a novel!”


ALAN: You think the company might use it?
NELSON: Oh, not so fast—I said it was novel…but I hardly think it’s practical

“To be honest, we’re just stalling for time until we can figure out a way to steal it without giving you credit.  Legal’s looking at it right now, and we’ll let you know when we present you your severance check.”  Okay, I’m just poking a little fun here—Alan acknowledges that it’s still in the experimental stage, but with a little more work and some extra men on the job it can shake off its irksome “practicality.”  But Nelson pooh-poohs the young man’s ambition, dismissing him with “You’re rather impatient, aren’t you?”  Dude just can’t catch a break, and he complains as such to his roommate Chet (J. Anthony Hughes) in the next scene:


ALAN: The same old line…said he’d “keep me in mind” …hmph…I didn’t know he had one…
CHET: So you’re beginning to realize they’re playing you for a sucker, huh?
ALAN: Maybe you’re right, Chet—if that’ll give you any satisfaction…nah…the answer is still “no”…
CHET: Why, with your brains you and me could make more dough in a day than you make now in five years
ALAN: Yeah…and find myself behind the eight ball?  No thanks…

Hey…it worked for George O’Hanlon.  Chet presses his pal to consider this criminal venture with him, seeing that he has all that technical know-how.  “By the time you’re a success, you’ll be too old to enjoy it,” he persuasively argues against soul-sucking, nose-against-the-grindstone capitalism.  Besides, Chet would be “taking all the risks.”

CHET: You got everything to gain and nothing to lose…
ALAN (after a pause): What do you want me to do?

You got him, Chester—now reel him in slowly!  All Chet wants is a little information on “burglar alarms and how to stop them.”  What remains of Alan’s conscience start nibbling on him—“I’ve got a date”—but it’s too late: the journey down the Perdition Interstate has begun.

In the next scene, Alan explains to his gal, Mary Fulton, why he begged off on their rendezvous the previous evening.  I can understand why a lot of these bit players go unidentified at the IMDb, but the actress playing Mary is pivotal to the action in this short, so omitting her details is puzzling.  Then again, perhaps we should rest easy knowing someone hasn’t come around and volunteered erroneous information (“That’s Scarlett Johansson!”).


MARY: Where were you last night?
ALAN: I’m sorry…but at the last minute I found out I had to work…

What was that about "the same old line?"  The two lovers have an innocuous conversation about how Alan is stymied in his ambitions at work, with Mary trying to reassure him not to be so discouraged.  When he posits the notion of robbing a bank, she replies: “That would take care of your rent problems for twenty years anyhow.”  (Yes, I tittered at this.)  A paperboy greets Mary and drops off a load of the latest edition on the counter…and here are your headlines:


Hokey smoke, Bullwinkle!  Looks like Chet occupied his time wisely last night!  Alan then remembers he left something on the stove in his apartment, and he heads back to his domicile to see that his roomie is playing cards with a friend, Dave Mayne (Harry Tyler).


DAVE: Sure do know your stuff, kid…
ALAN (with a laugh): What do you mean?
CHET: Oh, that’s all right—I told Dave all about you…you see, uh…he’s my…business associate
ALAN (smiling): I see by the papers where business is picking up

Hey!  These things are supposed to be unintentionally funny!  “You’re a smart kid, Al,” Dave gushes to his new friend.  “I think Chet and I can do you some good.”  Dave takes a drag on his cigarette and stubs it out in an ashtray…and then a dissolve reveals that ashtray has gotten a bit fuller with the passage of time.  (Nice little directorial touch by Cahn.) 


DAVE: Our only problem is—what business could we open that we could carry on legitimately?  That’s where you come in…
ALAN: Go on…
CHET: Look, pal—you know radios…so here’s our proposition: you, Dave and I open a radio store…we put up the money, but…you actually run the place…
ALAN: All we want you to do is sort of act as our…technical advisor…we’ll do the rest…
CHET: There’s a barrel of money in it…
ALAN: I know, but…well, give me some time to think it over, will ya?

Two seconds later…


Hey, this is a twenty-minute short—time moves quickly or not at all.  Alan is seated in the back room of the shop (balancing the books, maybe?) when Chet and Dave return from their latest venture in crime, slapping each other on the back over Alan’s cleverness.

ALAN: Hey—did you put the old padlock back on the gate?
CHET: No…no, I didn’t…
ALAN: You didn’t?
CHET: Well, what of it?  They’re both your locks…


That’s when Alan patiently explains to his boneheaded friend that it’s slip-ups like this that put the police work into overdrive when it comes to these two-reel morality plays. 

DAVE: Too late now…
ALAN: It’s not too late—I’m not gonna take that risk…
CHET: You?  Where do you get that stuff?
DAVE: Yeah…if you’re so worried, why don’t you start takin’ some of the chances yourself?
CHET: Yeah…

So Alan decides to go back to change the padlock before his dumb hoodlum friends are rounded up by the gendarmes.  “From then on,” Hewitt drones on to Jim, “Saunders took an active part in the crimes he planned.  Even after his marriage to Mary he wasn’t satisfied.  He had it all figured out—he believed he could keep his criminal career separate from his social life indefinitely.  But all the time inside his brain, a slow poison was at work...crime!”  (Captain Hewitt seems to have forgotten that Bruce Wayne got a lot of shit done as Batman, and that never seemed to put a crimp in his social activities.)


ALAN (to his associates): From now on, we’re going out for the bigger things…as long as we’re in it this deep, let’s make it really worth our while…

The origin of “go big or go home,” by the way.

ALAN: The cops will be looking for guys with previous records…they’ll never suspect a bunch of rank amateurs like us…

And believe me—there ain’t nobody ranker.  A montage of front page headlines and close-ups of cut wires and opened safes follows.  Everything seems to go according to plan until one night “The Rank Amateur Mob” robs an establishment with a movie theatre nearby.  As they make their getaway, Alan spots a man working outside putting up a theatre poster and draws his pistola…


…it’s character actor Robert Dudley, so you can guess at the implications.  Alan guns down the Weenie King!  As the Hot Dog Monarch draws his rations, director Edward Cahn demonstrates how not only to properly hype current MGM product (a 1935 film with Spencer Tracy and James Stewart as his sidekick) but making a funny in-joke at the same time.


CHET: Whadja want to shoot the old guy for?
ALAN: I had to…he saw me…


A visibly shaken Alan returns home and listens to the police calls on his radio—when he doesn’t hear a report of the murder of the Weenie King, he relaxes a bit…but then the ol’ ball-and-chain enters, and he’s going to have to make small talk. (“Where have you been, dear?”  “Oh, the usual…cards with the boys…busting a cap into old geezers…you know…”)

ALAN: You’re still up?
MARY: It’s late…I was getting worried
ALAN: Haven’t I told you not to wait up for me?!!  (Tugging at his collar) I can take care of myself…
MARY: I know, darling…but you’ve been acting so nervous lately…

“It’s as if you were leading two lives—one good, and the other pure dagnasty evil!”  The Rank Amateur Mob’s reign of terror continues with the looting of the Lynton Bank—which results in the death of two individuals.  Witnesses are only able to identify the trio’s getaway car, so Alan instructs Dave to get rid of the vehicle because it’s “hot.”

DAVE: Say, Chet…I’m drivin’ that Packard tonight…we better change that battery—I don’t wanna take any chances gettin’ stalled
CHET (seeing a battery on a work table): Why—here’s a new one…
DAVE: All right—play it safe…fix these numbers…


Chet files down the identification number on the battery.  “When I’m through filing, I’ll burn the rest down with acid.”  The stolen Packard is later identified—despite it being burnt to a crisp—by the gendarmes by the engine number.  One of the detectives (Ben Taggart) notices the battery, and Chief Hewitt asks the car’s owner if he had changed it recently—the man hasn’t, though he intended to.  Can they identify the numbers on the battery even though some miscreant has gone at them by filing them down and then burning them with acid?  No problemo, says a police technician.  “You see, I figure the heavy stamping machine that puts these numbers on at the factory hits with such force that it changes the molecular structure of the whole metal.”  Whoa—check out the big brain on Mr. Wizard!  But he’s right; a simple chemical process later, and those numbers are easily read…allowing the police to stop by the humble shop of Saunders and Associates.

Batteries have a permanent record!
An undercover detective strolls into the establishment under the ruse of needing a new radio tube…and when Chet and Dave attempt to help him with his request, they are quickly rounded up by Kappa Delta Flatfoot.  Alan, being in the back room at the time, hears his confederates being rounded up and beats a hasty retreat by ducking into a convenient crate.  The cops, perplexed as to why such a criminal mastermind would choose such a hiding place, soon discover why after firing a few rounds into the box:


 I laughed out loud at this, only because it reminded me of a similar situation in the 1945 serial Brenda Starr, Reporter.  Well, Alan must—in the vernacular of the underworld—“take it on the lam,” so he phones the little woman to let her know that he won’t be home for dinner…for about twenty years.  Okay, I’m just jinkin’ ya—he tells her to grab a hat and coat and meet him at the corner of 6th and Hope.  The couple are later stopped at a traffic light when a newsboy happens by hawking the latest edition of The Evening Blade…and this cherce headline:


“Muffin…there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”  Alan is forced to tell Mary the sordid truth about his criminal activities, and she is terribly upset.


ALAN: How do you think I made all that money?  From the radio store?
MARY: We didn’t need that kind of money…
ALAN: I only did it for you…you haven’t any kick coming…ah, as soon as this thing blows over we’ll have everything we’ve ever wanted…
MARY (tearful): I won’t have Alan
ALAN: Sure you will…they’ll never catch me…
MARY: You’re not the Alan I mean…you’re Al Saunders…killer!
ALAN: Mary!
MARY: You killed the Alan I loved…you killed him like you did everyone…
ALAN: Shut up!

Oh, yeah—this relationship is just going to blossom into something truly fulfilling and rewarding.  “Now you listen to me,” Alan tells Mrs. Alan in a menacing tone.  “You’re my wife, understand?  So no matter what happens we stick together.”

Alan is so clever he's able to escape capture, leaving only his clothes behind.
Well, I guess the murder of the Weenie King has raised such a public outcry that it’s put a spur under the saddle of the police, because they swing into action and start rounding up the usual witnesses during their manhunt.  One female clearly recalls that Alan has a habit of constantly tugging at his collar, as if his shirt is too tight…or he’s doing a Rodney Dangerfield impression.  Finally, the men in blue track down Alan’s old boss Nelson, who tells the detectives with a perfectly straight face: “In fact, he submitted an idea for a television screen which is working out very well.  It’s a shame this had to happen.”  Nelson claims that they tried to contact Saunders…yeah, I’ll just bet you did.  (Dick.)

That silhouette of the detective reminds me of an omnipresent radio narrator whose whistled a lot.  ("So you thought no one would know about your theft of Alan's invention...didn't you, Nelson?")

Alan’s brilliant invention—that Nelson’s company, for all intents and purposes, “liberated,” setting in motion the kid’s swift descent into crime—will prove to be his downfall.  Captain Hewitt gambles that Alan is just narcissistic enough to want to see his device deployed at an exhibit Hewitt persuades Nelson to host…and sure enough, as the place is crawling with more cops than a Krispy Kreme with a “Hot” sign, Alan (check out his pencil-thin moustache) is spotted with his familiar tell:

"I lived in a tough neighborhood...a tough neighborhood!  I once asked a cop where the subway was and he said 'I don't know...no one's ever made it!'"
The cops put the snatch on Alan as he leaves the exhibition…and just before they really start to work him over, Hewitt informs him that the wife is going to swing, too!


ALAN: Mary, don’t talk to them…the law says a wife can’t testify against her husband!
HEWITT: No one is asking her to testify against you, Saunders…she’ll have enough trouble defending herself!
ALAN: What do you mean?
HEWITT: I mean she’s going on trial with you as an accomplice for murder and grand theft!
ALAN: No!
HEWITT: She’s in this as much as you are!
ALAN: No, you can’t—you must be crazy!
HEWITT: Take ‘em out!
ALAN: No…no…she had nothing to do with this!  I’m guilty, I admit it…but you better leave her out of it, see…
HEWITT: I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that…the law will have to take its course…

Man!  This guy Hewitt is a real hardass!  “Yes, Jim,” he solemnly concludes his tale, “Saunders not only made a wreck out of his own life—but his crimes brought shame and suffering to the one person he really loved.  His accomplishments will not bring him honor in the world of science…he is merely a case record in the underworld of crime.  A case brought to a sudden close…at the end of a rope.”


I’m guessing the judge that sentenced Alan to death was a Preston Sturges fan.  Next week: Foolproof (1936)—g’bye now!