I had originally planned a review of an upcoming Time Life DVD release in their The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson series for this space today…but unfortunately, I ran out of weekend before I watched the last disc in the 3-DVD set. I’ll have it up on the blog Wednesday, so don’t go nipping out to the kitchen, putting the kettle on...buttering scones...or getting crumbs and bits of food out of those round brown straw mats that the teapot goes on. Once again: normal blogging will resume tomorrow. (The screen grab above is from a May 21, 1982 telecast that also featured “More to Comes” with Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd, and Mae West.)
Monday, June 26, 2017
Friday, June 23, 2017
Well, after all the hassles with my health and the health of my computer, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear returns with our critically-acclaimed dissections of the two-reel shorts in MGM’s long-running Crime Does Not Pay series. (Spoiler: they are not critically-acclaimed.) This week’s entry, Foolproof (1936), comes to us via the team of Marty Brooks (story) and Richard Goldstone (screenwriter); both men collaborated on previous entries in the CDNP series (Alibi Racket, A Thrill for Thelma) but Goldstone had the more prolific show bidness career in that he made his way through the ranks of MGM’s shorts department as a producer (he’s credited with several Our Gang one-reelers) before graduating to feature films like The Yellow Cab Man (1950) and The Tall Target (1951). Dick later went to work for 20th Century-Fox, and in the 1960s was a producer on programs like Adventures in Paradise and Peyton Place.
Our MGM Reporter (William Tannen)—the man known cryptically as…Jim—is also back with us; they decided to stick him behind a microphone so he would look more reporter-ish. (He needs it, as you’ll learn in a few.)
JIM: A few months ago, I was seated in the office of Frederick Halliday—who is Captain of Detectives in a large middle Western city…
Even the names of the burgs have been changed to protect the innocent. The (always reliable) IMDb doesn’t technically identify the actor who portrays Cap’n Halliday, but since Alonzo Price is listed among the players I’m gambling it’s him because a) his name is also listed prominently among the cast in the entry for Foolproof in Leonard Maltin’s Selected Short Subjects, and 2) the IMDb does list his place of birth as Boston, MA (me sainted mother’s birthplace!) …and Alonzo has an accent as thick as clam chow-dah.
JIM: Captain Halliday, I’ve been sent to you to obtain a case history of crimes from your files for presentation to the motion picture public…
HALLIDAY: I think I can do better than that, Jim…the coroner’s jury is just doing an investigation of a very interesting case down the hall…maybe we can sit in on the proceedings…
“But…I’m not properly dressed!”
JIM: Fine—what case is it?
HALLIDAY: The Anderson case!
JIM: Say—that sounds like a mystery thriller…
Or something Anderson drank. Halliday and his guest are lucky to find a couple of seats up front as the inquiry gets underway. The actor playing the part of the judge at the inquest is easily identified…
…it’s Stanley Andrews, the character veteran (Meet John Doe, The Ox-Bow Incident) best remembered as “The Old Ranger” on the long-running TV western Death Valley Days. Andrews’ judge is questioning one of the major witnesses in “the Anderson case”—another TV favorite…
…George Cleveland, who played George “Gramps” Miller in the early seasons of Lassie before his passing in July of 1957. Cleveland also had plum roles in such TDOY faves as It’s in the Bag! (1945—“Compliments of the management!”) and The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947), and he turns up in the Crime Does Not Pay series often, notably in 1941’s Sucker List…which I covered previously on the blog. Here’s the thing: at the time I wrote about this short in December of 2010, Cleveland’s credit at the IMDb hilariously read: “Old Man Not Beaten Up.” I swear I’m not making this up—except if you look at the entry now, the “Not Beaten Up” portion has been removed. I don’t know if I had anything to do with this or not…if on the off-chance I do have that much influence on the Internets, I offer my sincerest mea culpa because I thought it was funny as hell.
Back to the particulars of “the Anderson case.” Cleveland, as Mr. Hanson, testifies he was mowing his front lawn when a moppet named Frances came running up to report that her mother Rita (Donrue Leighton) had been hurt. Hanson finds Mrs. A bound and gagged in the bedroom, and after untying her he runs to another room to discover her husband Frank is really most sincerely dead. (And someone’s responsible!)
The coroner identified the presence of “anesthetic in the victim’s lungs” as a contributory cause of his demise… “though not in sufficient quantity to kill him.” “Apparently the drug was administered to stupefy him…after which, the murderer strangled him,” he remarks. Further study showed that traces of that anesthetic were present on the gag in Rita’s mouth, which apparently put her out for about six hours (the marks on her wrists and ankles bear this out as well). Detective Whalen testifies further:
WHELAN: A routine checkup revealed no fingerprints—nor any other clues…Mr. Anderson’s pockets had been emptied…his watch and wallet were both missing…so were Mrs. Anderson’s jewels…all windows and doors were in perfect order, except the front door—where apparently the burglar made his entry by filing through a chain lock…
The Widder Anderson then testifies as to her version of events—she and husband Frank returned home from an evening soiree and as she prepared for bed in front of her dressing table, she was attacked by the assailant from behind and (presumably) chloroformed with the anesthetic (she doesn’t remember anything that happened afterward until Hanson came to her rescue). That screen grab above reminds me of the lyric in Tom T. Hall’s Ballad of Forty Dollars: “You know, some women do look good in black.”
The dowager who threw the affair that the Andersons attended, Mrs. Layton, is identified at the IMDb as an actress named Lelah Tyler—but you can’t tell me that’s not Esther Howard (Leonard Maltin thinks so, too). (The comments section awaits dissenters.) Anyway, Layton’s testimony reveals that there was a small disagreement during her party between Frank Anderson and a sebaceous individual named Terry Spencer (Stephen Chase), who starts to get a little handsy where Mrs. Anderson is concerned.
RITA: No, no, Terry…please…Terry, please stop…
FRANK (approaching the couple): What’s the idea, Spencer? That’s my wife…
SPENCER: Yeah…I’ve often wondered about that…
(He turns his back to Anderson)
FRANK (spinning him around): Just what do you mean?
SPENCER: I’d bet you’d like to know…or maybe you wouldn’t…
The donnybrook is just about to commence when a party guest (Niles Welch) who’s been watching the argument starts to step in and settle things…before being stopped by Rita. He’s later identified as “John Harwood,” though I should strenuously point out he is not the same guy who’s CNBC’s editor-at-large. Mrs. Layton, who describes Mr. H as “a friend of Rita’s,” assumes that’s to whom Spencer was referring when he made that cryptic “maybe you wouldn’t” statement. Judge Ranger presses her a little more, and gets her to reveal that “John thought a lot of Rita…but so did Terry Spencer!”
What amuses me about the above screen grab is that Halliday is furiously taking notes while Jim—who claims to be a “reporter”—does nothing of the sort. The first name in Halliday’s notebook, by the way, is “Spencer Walden”—the third suspect in la affaire Anderson due to his uncomfortable encounter with the victim earlier at the party:
FRANK: Why, I’ve given you enough time already…
WALDEN: But you don’t understand…I’ll be wiped out!
FRANK (finishing his drink and getting to his feet): Sorry, Walden…I didn’t come here to talk business…
…and learns that “getting that note extended” was of vital importance to Mr. Walden—providing plenty of motive for Stew to croak Frank. Walden claims he was home in bed:
|Jim will have to leave the room as soon as Halliday breaks out the oranges and pillowcase.|
HALLIDAY: Can you prove that?
WALDEN (after a pause): Certainly I can…if I’d have come home later than midnight the clerk would have seen me…I would have had to waken him to get in…
Next up is non-CNBC Washington correspondent John Harwood, who works for some sort of chemical outfit as head of the sales division. Halliday has difficulty pronouncing John’s last name due to his Boston accent; it sounds as if he’s saying “Howard” throughout most of this short.
HARWOOD: I most certainly do not…
“Well, unless you want to include the fact that I was shtupping his wife.” Johnny’s got an alibi, too—he was staying at a hotel the night of Anderson’s murder, and the next morning he went over to his company’s warehouse to supervise a shipment. When the greasy Terry Spencer is brought in for questioning, he, too, has a story—he was in a poker game at a roadhouse outside of town, one that broke up at 3:30am.
JIM: They certainly all have airtight alibis, haven’t they?
HALLIDAY: Well, I didn’t expect them to come unprepared…
Yes, I chuckled at that.
JIM: What are you going to do next?
HALLIDAY: Let’s see…I think we’ll assign a man to check on Walden…I want to find out exactly what shape his business affairs are in…as for Terry Spencer…I want to know just who he plays poker with every Sunday night…
As for “Howard,” Halliday assigns a couple of plainclothesmen, Finney and Jorgensen, to pose as salesman so that they can infiltrate Harwood’s “sales force.” Two more detectives (one a female who watches Spencer with her makeup mirror) shadow Spencer in a nightclub, where’s he witnessed paying off a couple of goombahs from a large wad o’money…
As for Walden, still another dick gets the information on Walden’s business from a mousey bookkeeper who’s told not to mention anything to the boss. Walden becomes the chief suspect after Cap’n Halliday has had a look at his records:
HALLIDAY: In going over his books, we find that his business is going to the wall…a thirty-day extension on the Anderson note might have saved him…a delay, for example—caused by Anderson’s death and the settlement of his estate…and that isn’t all…Walters reports that he’s been putting his affairs in order…it looks as if he’s going to blow town…
I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou. The only thing Walden is going to blow is his brains out, a delicate little matter that Halliday stumbles upon when he and Jim (I guess he’s going out on police calls now) pay Walden a little visit at his modest digs. While it looks at first glance as if Stewie committed suicide, Halliday soon rules that out since the bullet hole was in his forehead and the Captain believes it’s a little awkward shooting yourself that way (most suicide attempts occur at the temple, he tells Jim). “Guess that’s why he was putting his affairs in order,” notes Jim inappropriately. (The Walden family is gonna love him at the funeral.) Halliday also observes that Walden was killed at nearly the same time on the same day as the unfortunate Frank Anderson—“I don’t think that’s a coincidence at all.”
So, the finger of suspicion is redirected back to Spencer and Harwood. Halliday has a funny line when talking to the detective who’s been birddogging Spencer; the dick tells him that everyone in the suspect’s poker game will swear he was there the entire time and the Captain cracks: “That don’t mean much—those guys will swear to anything.” (Terry is quite friendly with “the mob” …though that could also describe the Chamber of Commerce, to be honest.) But “Jorgy,” in conversing with Halliday, mentions that Harwood’s first stop on his sales route is in a town with an airport…and that gives Freddie an idea…
Halliday and Jim pay the Widder Anderson a visit, where the Cap’n tells Rita that they’re closing in on the man responsible for killing her husband. “I can assure you an arrest within 24 hours,” he informs her. Rita is concerned that the assailant will get away, but the cocky Halliday tells her not to fret. “He’s completely surrounded.”
He had a reason for telling her this—he now knows it’s Harwood, and he further knows that Rita was in on the caper from the beginning when she foolishly calls John to tell him to be careful and your friendly neighborhood police department has tapped her phone.
Harwood is picked up in the same fashion he utilized when he murdered Anderson and Walden. He snuck out of his hotel room and hid in the back of one of the company’s truck, covering himself with a tarp that he instructed the warehouse guys to place over the shipment beforehand. When the truck made its first stop, he exited the back of the vehicle and took a plane from the airport to Marion, where both Anderson and Walden lived. In the case of Frank, he instructed Rita that he would knock her out with the anesthetic so it would look like a home invasion—though when she’s confronted by the police she swears she had no idea John was going to send her hubby to The Happy Hunting Ground. So why did he kill Walden? “Like all criminals, you couldn’t stop at your first crime,” sneers Halliday. Just like Lays’ Potato Chips—you can’t eat just one. (Rita and John killed her husband for the insurance—the oldest game in the Big Book O’Crime.)
JIM: Rita Anderson was sentenced to twenty years in the Women’s State Penitentiary…
Presumably under the supervision of the happy-go-lucky female warden in A Thrill for Thelma.
JIM: …John Harwood is in the death house now…
When he’s not hosting Speakeasy with John Harwood on CNBC Digital.
JIM: …waiting for the law to exact the final penalty for his foolproof crime…for foolproof it was, only in the sense that it proved an ingenious criminal…a fool…
Sorry I cut this one so short this week…but my ass was starting to get numb. Next time, Crime Does Not Pay goes to the Academy Awards with the first of two Oscar-winning entries in the series, The Public Pays (1936). G’bye now!
Thursday, June 22, 2017
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.
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).
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
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.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
|James Whitcomb Riley, circa 1913|
|Eric Grayson, a.k.a. "Dr. Film," circa 2016|
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.)|
|Annie tells her tales.|
Monday, June 19, 2017
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.)
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)|
|Creator George Schlatter (holding sign) and the Laugh-In writers|
|"Sock it...to me?"|
|Ruth Buzzi, Jo Anne Worley and Goldie Hawn in a Season 3 sketch|
|Buzzi and Arte Johnson as Gladys & Tyrone|