Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Take the last train to Dogville

In the past two weeks, my CharredHer Cable's TCM on Demand has seen fit to showcase some of the M-G-M “Dogville” comedies cranked out by the studio between 1930 and 1931 under the direction of Jules White and Zion Myers (who also provided some of the voices as well). The flimsy premise of these two-reelers—nine in all—was to feature trained canines spoofing popular films of the time; for example, the Oscar-winning musical The Broadway Melody (1929) became The Dogway Melody (1930), which put these puppies through the places of the movie musical’s plot, even to the point of featuring Melody musical numbers like You Were Meant for Me and Singin’ in the Rain. Other spoofs in the Dogville mold include So Quiet on the Canine Front (1931), The Big Dog House (1930) and Trader Hound (1931).

For those of you who may have seen one (or several) of these shorts…I’m not going to mince words—they’re abysmal. My carnivorous eating habits are never going to earn me any kudos from PETA, but I cringe whenever I catch a glimpse of these painfully unfunny comedies because I just don’t like seeing dogs mistreated in such a fashion. It should come as no surprise that after wrapping up this series, director White would later go on to become the head of Columbia’s comedy shorts department…which allowed him to mistreat humans in two-reelers.

So it was with a mixture of amusement and horror that I learned that one of the newest releases from the Warner Archive is a 2-disc collection of these “barkies,” containing all nine titles for the low, low price of $24.95. Amused because I have access to them for free (well, let’s just say they’re included with my cable) and horrified that someone is actually selling these (albeit through the Archive) to the general public. My classic movie compadre Cliff “Laughing Gravy” Weimer remarked on this news when I posted it on Facebook: “I had FNF (Friday Night Films) regulars threaten to quit if we ever showed these again!” Nevertheless, if you have a difference in opinion (and I’ll certainly understand if you do) and want to purchase a copy…just don’t let me know. I couldn’t deal with the resulting disappointment.

There are some other noteworthy titles being trotted out amongst the fourteen new releases this week; notably a smattering of Hedy Lamarr films that include Experiment Perilous (1944), The Heavenly Body (1944) and I Take This Woman (1940). I’m rather partial to Crossroads (1942), an entertaining Hedy vehicle in which she plays the wife of amnesiac diplomat William Powell, who’s up to his neck in hot water being blackmailed by villainous Basil Rathbone, who testifies at Powell’s trial that Bill is innocent of treason—and then informs him that it’s not quite as simple as all that. I like Crossroads mostly for the Rathbone factor (Basil is definitely one of my favorites), but both Powell and Lamarr are first-rate, too. (The Hedy Lamarr movie I’d really like to see come to DVD is My Favorite Spy [1951], an entertaining Bob Hope vehicle in which Hedy acquits herself nicely in a supporting comedic role.)

Also being brought out of the Archive is The Search (1948), a film generally remembered as Montgomery Clift’s feature film debut (even though he completed work on the 1948 Howard Hawks/John Wayne western Red River first) and a movie that’s lost a bit of its luster over the years but one I still find entertaining (I bought this from efilmic.com sometime back, and am considering watching it again and doing a write-up for TDOY’s “Grey Market Cinema” series). But the movie that I’d really like to get a copy of (not likely to happen soon, though, I can assure you) is Men Don’t Leave (1990)—a very underrated film directed by Risky BusinessPaul Brickman (who sort of called it quits after Leave, his second feature) and starring Jessica Lange as a widow who tries to put her life back together after the death of her husband. The cast also includes Arliss Howard (a particular favorite of mine—has he done anything lately?), Joan Cusack, Chris O’Donnell, Kathy Bates and the little kid from the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy movie, Charlie Korsmo. I caught this on HBO shortly after its theatrical run…and haven’t seen hide or hair of it since. I’d love to revisit it.

TVShowsOnDVD.com has a few important, scattered announcements that I’ll use to close out this post. First, the date of The Jerry Lewis Show set being released by Image Entertainment has been changed yet again; this time to November 17th. They’ve also got the final box set art for the Perry Mason: Season 4, Volume 2 release (coming this December 8th; you can click on the link or ogle it at the left), and a list of the extras available on the Bonanza first (split) season sets (Volumes One and Two). You might also want to pay attention to this report trumpeting the news that Vivendi Entertainment (the distributor of Shout! Factory releases) has acquired the Genius Products catalog—which has released TV-on-DVD favorites like The Lone Ranger, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Underdog (under the Classic Media banner) and as a result will continue to do so (could this mean a possible finishing of the Bullwinkle season DVDs?).


Matthew Coniam said...

I have the Dogville shorts, and must admit I find them grotesquely fascinating... As a non-carnivore and ardent anti-speciesist, however, I often wonder why people find them quite so unpleasant from a cruelty angle. I certainly disapprove of dressing animals and training them to do imitative behaviour, don't get me wrong, but is it just this that's the problem? If so, it's no crueller than performing animals at a circus, probably less so given a dog's greater capacity to learn and imitate quickly.
Or is there something else in these films I've missed?

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I certainly disapprove of dressing animals and training them to do imitative behaviour, don't get me wrong, but is it just this that's the problem?

Oh, I think there are other factors, too, Matthew. They're not particularly funny, for one thing.

For the record, I do avoid circuses for the same reason -- I haven't been to one since I was a wee little gaffer.

Matthew Coniam said...

Oh I agree that they're not much good! I wasn't trying to defend them from any angle. But I was genuinely curious if there was more to them than I realised in terms of cruelty, because a lot of people say how terrible they are in that respect. Perhaps there were stories I didn't know about the methods used, etc.
I do, as I say, find them fascinatingly weird, and as long as there was no more cruelty involved than your basic dress 'em up and get 'em to do stuff, I can live with them to that extent...

Laughing Gravy said...

You can't tell me they didn't string these animals up with piano wire. You just can't. I watched one recently for my "Sunday Slapstick" feature; you can read about it here: http://www.inthebalcony.com/shorts/. Warning, though - even reading about it is unpleasant and unfunny.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I wonder if you know if the Dogville shorts are in the public domain? I can't find any info...thanks if you have any!

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

The Dogville shorts were scheduled to go into the public domain until Public Domain refused delivery.

Okay, I'm just jinkin' ya. They're still owned by Warner, and will probably remain so for quite some time.