Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
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Selection from Cites & Insights 9, Number 13: December 2009


Offtopic Perspective

50 Movie Comedy Classics, Part 2

Disc 7

Made for Each Other, 1939, b&w. John Cromwell (dir.), James Stewart, Carole Lombard, Charles Coburn, Lucile Watson, Eddie Quillan. 1:32.

At times, this movie seems like a comedy in the classical sense—a play in which some people survive until the end. There’s more drama than light-hearted humor, although there are a few funny scenes. James Stewart’s a young New York lawyer (who makes almost no money) who goes to Boston to take a deposition and, while he’s there, meets and weds a beautiful young woman (Carole Lombard). His mother lives with them and treats her badly; his boss prevents him from going on a honeymoon cruise; he has no money but almost always has at least one servant (and there’s that cruise thing). Then there’s a baby; they desperately need more money and he should be named a partner, but instead he meekly accepts a 15% pay cut…and soon, it’s New Year’s Eve and the baby contracts a rare pneumonia. Along the way, one standing joke is that the head of the lawfirm (Charles Coburn, who does a fine job) can only hear you if he opens his jacket and you yell into his pie-plate-size hearing aid microphone.

Laughing yet? It gets funnier. The only way to save the baby is with a new serum—but there’s none in New York, Johns Hopkins sent all of theirs (apparently the only supply anywhere) to Salt Lake City; the latter can spare a little, but there’s a terrible storm—and a pilot wants $5,000 to fly it back. We get several minutes of a (different) pilot in an open-air plane flying through storms and even bouncing off a mountainside at one point, then the plane catching fire and the pilot parachuting with serum package in hand. Of course, everything works out—the baby’s saved, the father gets his partnership, the mother comes around, and all of the happy ending is in the last two minutes.

The print’s pretty good, the sound’s fine, the acting is also fine. Not exactly a laughathon, but well made and enjoyable. $1.25.

That Uncertain Feeling, 1941, b&w. Ernst Lubitsch (dir.), Merle Oberon, Melvyn Douglas, Burgess Meredith, Alan Mowbray, Eve Arden. 1:24

Jill Baker (Merle Oberon) keeps getting the hiccups and is persuaded to see a psychoanalyst (Alan Mobray). She becomes disillusioned about her husband (Melvyn Douglas) and meets a strange but interesting pianist (Burgess Meredith), who she becomes involved with.

The husband plans to use psychology to get her back. After all sorts of incidents, it works—but it’s a very lightweight movie. Still, Burgess Meredith does a fine job, as do Oberon and Douglas—and the young Eve Arden (with her instantly recognizable voice) has a small but significant role. Here’s the problem: For one reason or another, I didn’t review this right after seeing it—and after four days, I’d almost completely forgotten the plot and the performances. “Lightweight” may overstate it. Still, and despite some soundtrack damage, I’ll give it $1.25.

The Great Rupert (aka A Christmas Wish), 1950, b&w. Irving Pichel (dir.), Jimmy Durante, Terry Moore, Tom Drake, Frank Orth, Sara Haden, Queenie Smith, Chick Chandler. 1:28 [1:25].

A movie about vaudeville, the virtues of local investing, passing along good fortune—and a dancing squirrel. The squirrel’s trainer has to depart a basement apartment for lack of funds, sets the squirrel (The Great Rupert) free to roam, and runs into another vaudevillian family, the Amendolas, father played by Jimmy Durante, who’s fled their last residence for similar reasons and wangles their way into the apartment without paying in advance. Meanwhile, the landlord finds out that a worthless gold mine he’d been conned into investing in is paying off, to the tune of $1,500 a week for his share. He won’t deal with banks and doesn’t trust his wife or musician son, so he stuffs the bills into a hole in the wall near the floor.

But the space behind the hole is now occupied by The Great Rupert, who finds these bills distracting, so he sweeps them away—right into the hole in the roof of the basement apartment, where they come fluttering down just after Mrs. Amendola prays for a little money. And the next week—after they’ve spent the money, between paying off debts, buying shoes for their beautiful daughter, and lending the rest to people in similar circumstances—she prays again, and another $1,500 comes fluttering down.

That’s one plot. Others involve Amendola’s daughter (who’s a harpist), the son upstairs (who likes her—and it’s mutual—and plays tuba: he composes a piece for “two forgotten instruments” to play with her), a show-biz type who also likes her (and keeps taking her out for meals, but gets nowhere), the son getting conned into a worthless oil investment, and eventually simultaneous visits from the local police, IRS and FBI, all wanting to know where the family’s getting all the money. Meanwhile, as the landlord notices, “and Amendola” keeps showing up on various small businesses (because Mr. Amendola keeps lending or investing in them), all of which seem to be doing very well.

There’s more—but I shouldn’t give it all away. The ending is, well, as it should be but also more than a little peculiar. All in all, a fun movie, but the print’s severely damaged, with missing chunks of dialogue and visual damage. Given the damage, I can’t give this one more than $1.00.

Something to Sing About, 1937, b&w. Victor Schertzinger (dir.), James Cagney, Evelyn Daw, William Frawley, Mona Barrie, Gene Lockhart, Philip Ahn, Kathleen Lockhart. 1:33 [1:27].

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. It’s easy to think of James Cagney as a tough guy, but he was also a first-rate hoofer and pretty good singer, and those talents shine in this romantic comedy. He’s Terry Rooney (or, rather, that’s the character’s bandleader name—his real name’s Thaddeus McGillicuddy), a bandleader/singer who’s been invited to Hollywood for a movie. He leaves, getting engaged to his singer/girlfriend just before getting on the train.

In Hollywood, the studio head makes sure that Rooney never realizes the extent of his screen chemistry and talent, trying to keep him from wanting a good contract. Rooney assumes he’s a disaster (and gets in a fistfight on set, which turns out to be staged to get a better film sequence) and has his fiancé fly out to Hollywood, where they get married and, with the picture wrapped, take off on a tramp steamer to the South Pacific. (This seems to be an era in which the train is the preferred way to go coast-to-coast, but you can fly if you’re in a hurry.)

Well, sir. The movie’s a big hit, Rooney’s a Big Star. When he returns, the studio exec wants to sign him up for seven movies (years?), but the contract says he has to be single. They come up with a gimmick: His wife will use her real married name (Mrs. McGillicuddy), live next door, and act as his personal assistant. Which is fine, but a female star makes a play for him, which an agent pushes on the press as a hot new romance—and his wife gets tired of it all.

That’s more of the plot than you need. Let’s just say it all ends up as a romantic comedy should, with a few great song-and-dance numbers along the way (including on the tramp steamer, where they’re the only passengers and most of the show is crew entertaining one another, flawed a bit by the clearly visible accordion, guitar and harmonica sounding a lot like a string-and-brass ensemble). The print’s pretty good with a little damage. (One oddity is revealed in the IMDB trivia area. I noted that the studio was Grand National, which I knew only for B westerns—and it turns out this movie broke the studio financially.) I’ll give it $1.50—not great, but a winner.

Disc 8

My Man Godfrey, 1936, b&w. Gregory La Cava (dir.), William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, Jean Dixon, Alan Mowbray, Mischa Auer. 1:34.

Set in the depression, this movie involves a wealthy (for the moment) family of eccentrics and a man (William Powell) living in the city dump, “found” as part of a scavenger hunt and turned into a butler for a family notoriously unable to keep butlers—a role he serves exceedingly well. The younger daughter who found him (Lombard) (well, the mean-spirited older daughter found him first, but she was so offensive he pushed her into an ashpile) falls for him and tends to over-emote about everything. He treats her Properly, as a butler should. Oh, and the family’s wealth is less secure than it might seem to be—and the father, the only sensible one of the bunch, is getting fed up with the rest of the family.

That’s the setup. It’s done very well, both a comedy of manners and a screwball comedy, with a somewhat remarkable closing sequence. It’s William Powell’s movie, but the rest of the cast offers strong (if sometimes overplayed) support—Lombard is hysterical in her apparent hysteria. Oh, and there’s one other thing: It’s funny. Four actors (and the director) received Academy Award nominations—I’d guess they were all well deserved. Good print, thoroughly enjoyable, a classic, an easy $2.00.

One Rainy Afternoon, 1936, b&w. Rowland V. Lee (dir.), Francis Lederer, Ida Lupino, Hugh Herbert, Roland Young, Erik Rhodes, Joseph Cawthron, Live De Maigret, Mischa Auer. 1:34 [1:19].

Here’s the plot, pretty much in its entirety: A French actor/singer is having an “affair” (kisses only, apparently) with a married woman, where they go to a movie after it’s started, enter separately, smooch, then leave before the movie’s over. (He finds this incredibly frustrating because he never sees how the movie ends.) One rainy afternoon, after she’s gone in, he hands his ticket to the usher—and we get the key plot point, which is that “66 upside down is “99.”

He winds up in the wrong seat and kisses the wrong woman (Ida Lupino), who is prettier and nicer than the married one. There’s an instant problem, mostly because she’s startled and the theater seems populated by a group of harridans who insist on high moral standards, who see to it that he’s arrested. He gets put in jail because he can’t afford a hefty fine; she (Lupino) bails him out; he pays her back a little at a time at an ice-skating rink (loads of physical comedy); her annoying fiancé is not thrilled…and lots of publicity about this “monster” makes him a hot box office draw. That’s about it, plus of course a happy ending of sorts.

Ah, but this one’s a charming farce and romantic comedy, a pleasure to watch. What can I say? This film is strong evidence that, for comedy even more than most film genres, it’s the performances, not the plot. The print’s OK (not great, not terrible) but the sound’s scratchy, which is the only thing reducing this charmer to $1.50.

The Great Mike, 1944, b&w. Wallace Fox (dir.), Stuart Erwin, Robert ‘Buzz’ Henry, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Edythe Elliott, Pierre Watkin, Gwen Kenyon. 1:12 [1:03]

Two kids deliver newspapers using a wagon pulled by…a thoroughbred? Which one of them is trying to buy on the installment plan from his uncle. They start delivering to a new resident, who turns out to be a stable owner. He lets the “delivery wagon horse” run against one of his horses, which barely beats the nag—and that horse turns out to be a champion.

That’s the setup. Then the uncle says he has to sell the horse ‘cause he needs the money, the new owner finds that the horse won’t eat or train because he misses his pal (the kid’s dog), the stable owner’s trainer goes in with the kid to buy the horse, and it goes from there, including race-fixers.

Not bad although very hokey, with lots of racing scenes, but the print’s really poor and the sound’s sometimes worse, and one key scene is missing entirely. Given those problems, I can’t come up with more than $0.75.

Three Guys Named Mike, 1951, b&w. Charles Walters (dir.), Jane Wyman, Van Johnson, Howard Keel, Barry Sullivan. 1:30.

I don’t know whether American Airlines paid for product placement or just cooperated, but their logo and distinctive “paint job” are there throughout this tale of a brand-new opinionated stewardess and her three beaus. There’s a pilot named Mike, an adman named Mike and a grad student scientist named Mike. From her job interview through amusing incidents on board the (pre-jet) plane (a DC-3) through finding a place to live with three other stewardesses to her Big Decision—it’s sprightly, well-played by a first-rate cast, frequently funny and a real charmer. It’s on the slight side, but still an easy $1.50.

Disc 9

The Over-the-Hill Gang, 1969, color. Jean Yarbrough (dir.), Walter Brennan, Edgar Buchanan, Andy Devine, Jack Elam, Gypsy Rose Lee, Ricky Nelson (and Kristen Nelson), Pat O’Brien, Chill Wills, Edward Andrews. 1:15 [1:10].

Age and guile beat youth and speed every time—one lesson from this charming lightweight western. A retired Texas Ranger goes to visit his son (Ricky Nelson!), the crusading newspaper editor of a corrupt Nevada town who’s running for mayor against the boss (who owns the local saloon/casino and runs the sheriff and judge). When he sees how bad the situation is, he calls for his squad—three other truly over-the-hill ex-Texas Rangers, but also a squad of Hollywood’s elder stars.

Fun, funny, with an interesting plot and a truly stellar cast. I probably saw this when it first aired and enjoyed it thoroughly again. The sound’s off a bit at times and it is, after all, a TV movie, cutting this to $1.75.

The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again, 1970, color. George McGowan (dir.), Walter Brennan, Fred Astaire, Edgar Buchanan, Andy Devine, Chill Wills. 1:15.

This sequel is set in Waco, where an ex-Texas Ranger named the Baltimore Kid has supposedly been arrested and is in danger of being lynched. The three “others” from the previous film ride off to Waco (precluding the near-immediate wedding of one of them), only to find the Kid’s already been lynched…and the newspaper editor is the deposed judge from Boulder (turned good guy, apparently).

Turns out the Baltimore Kid’s not so much dead (somebody stole his wallet) as trying to preserve himself several drinks at a time…and the plot moves on from there. Once again, it’s age and guile vs. speed and stupidity. While some of the stellar cast from the original is missing, there’s one magnificent addition—Fred Astaire, the Baltimore Kid, in a great turn both as hopeless drunk and as spiffed-up marshal. The print’s odd, with some color shifts and sound problems. Still, an easy $1.50.

Angel on My Shoulder, 1946, b&w. Archie Mayo (dir.), Paul Muni, Anne Baxter, Claude Rains. 1:40 [1:30].

A second-rate hood, Eddie Kagel, gets out of the joint after a four-term term. His sidekick, who’s been running his operation, picks him up and gives him back his gun—one bullet at a time. We’re then treated to a fairly long slice of a fairly impressive Hell, whose overlord really never feels quite warm enough. Nicky (or Mephistopheles if you prefer) spots Kagel’s resemblance to a Good Judge and gubernatorial candidate who’s a little too good for Nicky’s taste—and is aware that Kagel wants nothing more than revenge on his sidekick.

The plot’s afoot. They arise; Kagel occupies Judge Parker’s body; and somehow all Nicky’s evil plans backfire… It’s not a laugh-a-minute comedy, but it’s quite a picture, particularly Kagel’s interactions with the judge’s fiancée (Anne Baxter), a fine upstanding girl, and his butler—neither of whom quite understands his new speech patterns. Claude Rains is suave and effective as Nick. Well played and a good print, this really is a classic. Unfortunately, the sound track’s noisy (and ten minutes are missing), reducing this to $1.75.

Eternally Yours, 1939, b&w. Tay Garnett (dir.), Loretta Young, David Niven, Hugh Herbert, Billie Burke, C. Aubrey Smith, Zasu Pitts, Broderick Crawford, Eve Arden. 1:35 [1:29].

An engaged young woman (Young), granddaughter of a minister (Smith), goes from her bridal shower to a show—at which she falls instantly (and mutually) for Arturo (Niven), a magician. Abandoning her man, she goes off with the magician—getting married and going on a world tour. She’s not thrilled by the lipstick on his collar or his tendency to try dangerous stunts—but leaves him because he never wants to settle down and she does.

She divorces him (in Reno), he falls apart, tries to find her…and the rest of the plot includes a cruise, an on-board marriage and another example of the heroine’s attitude toward men who love her but aren’t Arturo. I was less than enthralled by this woman’s attitude toward every other man. Well acted, great cast, and the print’s OK but the soundtrack’s noisy. I’ll give it $1.50.

Disc 10

Happy Go Lovely, 1951, color. H. Bruce Humberstone (dir.), David Niven, Vera-Ellen, Cesar Romero. 1:37 [1:30].

See, there’s this threadbare American musical revue group in Edinburgh for the Festival, the investors are about to pull the plug on “Frolics to You” and the producer’s going nuts. Meanwhile, one chorus girl wakes up late for rehearsal, begs a ride with the chauffeur for Scotland’s richest bachelor (a greeting card magnate!), and one thing leads to another…

You get a rich man pretending to be a journalist to get close to a young woman—and the woman asking him to pretend to be the rich man to keep the show going. You get long dance numbers of mixed quality and some good knockabout chase-related comedy. You get David Niven, who does a fine job as the magnate/journalist, and Cesar Romero, chewing the scenery but possibly appropriate for the role. And Vera-Ellen, moving from fired chorus girl to lead dancer/singer, doing lots of dancing and some acting and singing. All in all, a pleasant entertainment with a good print. $1.50.

The Smallest Show on Earth, 1957, b&w. Basil Dearden (dir.), Virginia McKennan, Bill Travers, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers, Bernard Miles, Francis De Wolff. 1:20.

The sleeve description is wrong in one key respect (it gets part of the plot wrong too): It says “Starring: Peter Sellers.” Sellers is in the movie, overplaying an aging, drunken projectionist who’s the only one who can handle a rundown theater’s equipment (when he’s reasonably sober), but he’s definitely not the star. (Margaret Rutherford does well as an aged ticket-taker.)

A writer’s having trouble finishing a novel and the family’s running out of money when he finds he’s inherited the goods of an unknown great-uncle. The goods turn out to “the flea pit,” a wholly decrepit little movie theater that’s constantly shaken by trains and isn’t currently running—but still employs three ancient staff. The gimmick: The one grand movie theater nearby needs this place to build a parking lot—but that theater’s owner doesn’t want to pay a fair price for it.

It’s a lot of fun, particularly as the young couple (who somehow have enough money to do all this…) get the place sort-of running and find profit in running old westerns set in the desert, turning up the heat, and selling lots of cold drinks at intermission.

Not a great movie by any means, but amusing. Decent print, mediocre sound quality. $1.25.

Sandy the Seal, 1969, color. Robert Lynn (dir.), Heinz Drache, Marianne Koch. 1:13 [1:10].

It’s hard to know what to make of this—and how it comes to be on a set of comedy “classics.” A lighthouse keeper (alternating one month off, one month on) on Seal Island, on shift-change day, hears gunshots on the other side of the island and just misses the poachers (he’s unarmed, of course). There’s an orphan seal pup, who follows him back…all the way back home on the mainland, where the keeper’s two kids adopt the seal, now named Sandy.

Much frolicking ensues. Apparently, all seals inherently balance circus balls and walk around with them in midair, and do lots of other tricks automatically. So the kids hold a neighborhood circus (with fish as payment). Later, the seal blunders onto a fishing boat and, in looking for it, the kids wind up down in the hold—where there are lots of sealskins. When they tell their dad and he comes down to look (punching out a foul-tempered deckhand in the process), there’s nothing there!

This “comedy” proceeds to the unarmed keeper once more confronting armed poachers, getting shot, the kids finding him as the poachers smash up the island-to-shore radio…and a happy ending that’s just a trifle contrived. Good points: a little nice underwater photography and a well-trained seal. Weak points: The focus is a bit off during part of the picture—and it’s just not much of a picture, much less much of a comedy. As a sermon on the evils of seal-poaching, maybe. I’ll give it $0.75.

The Front Page, 1931, b&w. Lewis Milestone (dir.), Adolphe Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Mary Brian, Edward Everett Horton. 1:41.

Clearly a classic comedy, and you probably already know the plot. (Reporter wants to quit paper, move to New York, get married; his editor wants to prevent that; there’s a prison escape of sorts; and we get to see lots of byplay among prison reporters…along with some social commentary from the prisoner.)

Note that this is the 1931 version with Adolphe Menjou, not the 1974 version with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Well played, funny, but there are two problems, both print-related more than movie-related: The sound’s poor (lots of background noise, some distortion) and there appears to be lots of overscan—as in, on the opening credits you can’t read the actors’ names.

A great print of the movie would probably get a full $2, but I can’t give this one more than $1.50.

Disc 11

Behave Yourself, 1951, b&w. George Beck (dir.), Farley Granger, Shelley Winters, William Demarest, Francis L. Sullivan, Margalo Gillmore, Lon Chaney Jr., Hans Conried, Elisha Cook Jr., Glenn Anders, Allen Jenkins, Sheldon Leonard, Marvin Kaplan. 1:21.

The plot: A CPA (Granger), somewhat browbeaten by his mother-in-law, realizes almost too late that it’s his 2nd Anniversary. He goes to a store to buy his wife (a svelte and wonderfully funny Shelley Winters) a nightgown. Meanwhile, a dog (trained to go to a certain spot) has come into town as part of some odd scheme—and, somehow, breaks free and starts following the CPA, in the process demolishing enough of the store so that the CPA flees. And, when the dog keeps following him, pretends that the dog is his present for his wife.

Then an ad shows up about the lost dog, with precise physical description. The CPA wants to do the right thing…and that’s just the beginning of a wonderfully funny, fast-moving blend of caper and farce, with lots of mistaken identities, bad guys getting shot (sometimes with the CPA’s business card in hand), mother-in-law stuff, counterfeit money (that wasn’t supposed to be counterfeit), overeager cops…and one charming dog. It’s a 50’s movie: The married couple have twin beds. But never mind…

The cast is remarkable—William Demarest as a cop, Lon Chaney, Hans Conried, Elisha Cook Jr., Glenn Anders, Sheldon Leonard and Marvin Kaplan as gangsters and other criminals, Margalo Gillmore as the mother-in-law. They all do good jobs (Farley Granger, the CPA, is probably my least favorite character of the lot—he’s OK, but so many others are better). Good print, good sound. Thoroughly enjoyable. $2.00.

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, 1947, b&w. Preston Sturges (dir. & screenplay), Harold Lloyd, Jimmy Conlin, Raymond Walburn, Rudy Vallee, Edgar Kennedy, Arline Judge, Franklin Pangborn, Lionel Stander, Margaret Hamilton. 1:29.

How’s this for a movie that doesn’t worry about suspension of disbelief: This one begins with almost nine minutes from a Harold Lloyd silent movie, The Freshman, where a waterboy on a college football team somehow becomes the team hero—and that begins with an overlay acknowledging that it’s from an old Lloyd silent. At the end of the game, with sound inserted, a businessman says “Look me up when you’re through here, I’ll have a job for you.”

Cut to the much older Lloyd showing up for that interview. The businessman—owner of an ad agency—doesn’t remember the sport or the incident (apparently he does this a lot) but has a starting position: as an accounting clerk, where Lloyd (that is, Harold Diddlebock) can work his way up. 20 years later, he’s done nothing but work on those books. At which point, the owner notes that he’s a failure and it’s time to cut him loose, with around $2,000. Diddlebock takes the money in cash—he doesn’t trust anybody at this point—and, as he’s leaving, tells a young woman his sad tale (which she already knows). He’d fallen in love with every sister in that family as they came to work, but never did anything about it—except that he finally purchased a ring with which to propose, and he gives it to the youngest sister so she can keep it for when she meets the right person. Exit this hapless and unmotivated character…

Who we next see chatting with a shifty guy who wants to buy him a drink—and Diddlebock’s never had one. The shifty guy’s also spotted the wad but is impeccably honest. So, into the bar they go (at 11 a.m.), and the bartender makes up a special creation, the Diddlebock, with no apparent alcoholic taste and enough of a kick that Diddlebock’s yelling out, then wondering who made all that noise. Bookie shows up to collect from the shifty guy, Diddlebock decides to bet half his savings on a longshot, wins, bets again…and next we see there’s a brief montage of nightclubs and carousing.

When Diddlebock awakes two days later, he finds that he has no money—but he now owns a rundown circus with 37 hungry lions and no way to get rid of it. That sets up a lengthy set of scenes involving a well-trained lion, bankers and their reputation, and the kind of physical humor (and physical danger) we’d expect from Lloyd. To be sure, there’s an odd happy ending.

I had mixed feelings about this one. There’s some background noise on the soundtrack but that’s not the major issue. I’m not sure what it is—the movie’s amusing, as you’d expect from Sturges and the great cast, but maybe I expected more. Still, it’s not bad, and for fans of Lloyd it’s his last movie (and only movie after 1938). $1.25.

Beat the Devil, 1953, b&w. John Huston (dir.), Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, Ivor Barnard. 1:29.

I saw this picture in another public domain collection five years ago (the “DoubleDouble” set of 44 movies sent to subscribers of a long-since-defunct DVD magazine). In that collection, this movie was with a group of “Famous Directors, Cult Classics” flicks. Here, it’s classed as a comedy. Maybe it’s just hard to classify. Back then, I thought the acting was better than the “dubious plot.” I still do.

The plot, such as it is: In Ravello, waiting for a slow boat to Africa, are an odd group of four men (all from different countries), plus a jaded adventurer and his gorgeous Italian wife—and a stiff-upper-lip Englishman and his sharp but perhaps over-imaginative American wife. The adventurer (Bogart) is involved with the odd quartet, apparently out to acquire uranium-bearing lands in British East Africa on the sly: The quartet is providing the funds and Bogart has the contacts. The other couple is off to claim a coffee plantation the Brit has inherited—but if you believe his wife, he’s actually out for uranium as well. Let’s see. Both wives get involved with each other’s husbands. One of the quartet is a murderous type (not Peter Lorre). There’s some romance and lots of double-crossing. There’s a moderately funny sequence involving a broken-down, runaway car and two briefly-presumed deaths. The ship isn’t all it might be—the captain even less so. And, well…while there’s a resolution, I didn’t find it all that coherent.

Still…John Huston directing (Truman Capote and Huston writing). Humphrey Bogart. Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley. Peter Lorre. Jennifer Jones, all playing it straight and making for an amusing film. How far wrong can you go? Decent print; I’ll give it $1.50.

Passport to Pimlico, 1949, b&w. Henry Cornelius (dir.), Stanley Holloway, Betty Warren, Barbara Murray, Paul Dupuis, John Slater, Jane Hylton, Hermione Baddeley, Margaret Rutherford. 1:24.

While in some ways distinctly a film of its time—post-war rationing in England, unexploded bombs and lots of shortages—this is also a great plot idea, fairly well carried out. In Pimlico (a small area in London, not nearly so grand in this movie as it’s made to sound these days), there’s an unexploded bomb in an excavation (in an open area where a visionary would like to see a Lido, with swimming pool, but the mercenary neighborhood leaders just want to sell it off). Kids playing nearby manage to set off the bomb—and in the process of one person sliding into the excavation and being pulled out, he spots an antechamber opened by the bomb. He goes out with a ladder, climbs down and discovers a treasure trove.

As things develop, the treasure trove includes a document that says the neighborhood was ceded to the Duke of Burgundy, a deed that was never reversed. The residents (19 families) decide this means they’re Burgundians, so they can ignore British pub closing laws, rationing etc. The British government can’t fault the finding (aided by authentication by Prof. Hatton-Jones, a winning performance by Margaret Rutherford)—and things escalate from there. Let’s just say that Whitehall comes off neither wise (or in any way reasonable) nor liked by Londoners, and the good guys win.

Quite charming, and occasionally a good laugh. I wondered about the “In Memoriam” at the start of the film, followed not by a name but by a wreath surrounding some odd documents—but by the end, I’d figured out that the documents were ration-related.

Very nice. Decent print. $1.75.

Disc 12

Spooks Run Wild, 1941, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Bela Lugosi, Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall and the gang. 1:05 [1:03].

Since the sleeve says “Starring: Bela Lugosi” I didn’t realize until the opening credits came on that this is another East Side Kids flick, although it doesn’t use that name. Even by the low standards of those films, this one—despite Lugosi—is mostly a waste.

We start out with the kids being rounded up by cops—and put on a bus to go to summer camp? Really? Meanwhile, in a town near the camp, people are upset because a “monster killer” seems to be on his way there. Lugosi pulls into a gas station with his vehicle piled high with boxes that could be coffins and an extremely short sidekick, and asks the way to the long-deserted old mansion next to the cemetery…after which, another car pulls in with a bearded gentleman who claims to be a monster-hunter. Anyone who can’t figure out the plot twist will probably find this movie suspenseful and enjoyable, but really…

Anyway, the kids want to leave the camp’s dorm to go to town, they get shot at in the cemetery, one thing leads to another and the next thing you know, you’ve wasted a little more than an hour. Best line of the movie: Lights out in the dorm, one kid’s reading—in full dark. Another one says “How can you read in the dark?” to which he responds, “I went to night school.” That was the highlight of the film—unless, I suppose, you’re an East Side Kids fan. Charitably, I’ll give it $0.50.

His Girl Friday, 1940, b&w. Howard Hawks (dir.), Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Cliff Edwards, Regis Toomey. 1:32 [1:21].

Remake or not remake? Two discs down, the same source material (a play by Ben Hecht)—but a very different flick than The Front Page. Yes, it’s the same plot—an ace reporter wants to leave the paper and get married, the editor tries every trick in the book to keep the reporter on the job, and there’s a hapless prison break in the middle of all of this, with a sadsack about-to-be-executed (but reprieved by the governor, if the mayor or sheriff would accept the reprieve) prisoner in a roll-top desk. No, it’s not the same plot: This time, the reporter’s a woman, the editor’s her ex-husband, she’s actually been away for a month—and there’s a lot more repartee between the two leads.

It’s a better movie. It’s also a very different movie, although 20-30 minutes are fairly familiar. I think I see why the two flicks weren’t adjacent on the same disc, although that might have been interesting. Grant and Russell both do great jobs, and Ralph Bellamy is fine in a smaller role (in which the character is identified as someone who looks like Ralph Bellamy). The flaws this time around? The print’s noisy at times and a few minutes are missing. Even so, I’ll give it $1.75.

Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, 1946, b&w. Willis Goldbeck (dir.), Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Sara Haden, Bonita Granville, Lina Romay, Fay Holden, Dorothy Ford. 1:33.

This one surprised me. I’ve never seen any Andy Hardy pictures and I’m not the world’s biggest Mickey Rooney fan. But this movie was fun, funny, sweet and quite enjoyable.

Hardy’s just back from a stint in the Army and returning to college (still a freshman, and at the same college his parents attended). He plans to ask his girlfriend—with whom he’s just been corresponding—to marry him. Meanwhile, lots of hijinks and physical comedy before he leaves for college, and there’s a South American young woman new in town who seems to have the hots for him (and who sings a truly odd song that mixes polkas and Latin American rhythms). Once at college, the girlfriend’s a little busy, and Hardy gets roped into chairing the frosh get-together with the expectation that every young woman will have a date…which turns out to include a remarkably tall student (the 6’2” or 6’4” Dorothy Ford, wearing heels besides—Rooney’s 5’2”). One thing leads to another, and he winds up going to the dance with her, a mismatch that makes for some great scenes.

The title probably gives the rest away—but, of course, all works out at the end (for the continuation of the series at least—although this was the last of 15 (or 18?) flicks in the series until one final attempt 12 years later). It’s nothing great, but it’s not bad. Also, the print is one of the best b&w public domain prints I’ve seen (apparently re-released as part of an Academy Award collection). $1.50.

Pot O’ Gold, 1941, b&w. George Marshall (dir.), James Stewart, Paulette Goddard, Horace Heidt, Charles Winninger, Mary Gordon, Frank Melton. 1:26.

This tall skinny guy who looks like an impossibly young James Stewart, right down to the speech pattern, is going broke running his father’s unsuccessful music store—and his uncle, who owns a health food factory, wants him to come work for him. After final failure, the young man travels to the factory’s city, and on his way to the factory encounters a boarding house that has really great big-band music apparently coming from the sky—right next to the factory.

Turns out the uncle hates music, and wanted to buy out the boarding house to expand the factory, and the boarding house owner is letting a just-forming band rehearse on the roof, at least partly to annoy the old coot. The nephew doesn’t know any of this when he winds up listening to the band, quietly taking out his harmonica, and showing himself as a natural talent…

Well, that’s the start. We get tomato-throwing, a remarkable jail musical scene, gaslighting the old man with mysterious band music coming from nowhere (to get him to take a vacation), more musical scenes…and, of course, a contrived happy ending. It’s part musical, part comedy, and all quite good, really. (The musical number that’s supposedly the fledgling band making its first radio appearance is a bit improbable, as it involves two dozen or so dancers and elaborate scenery, but plausibility and musicals never have gone well together.)

Stewart is, as always, great. Paulette Goddard as a daughter of the boarding-house owner and, of course, love interest is very good. The musical numbers are remarkably good, particularly the jailhouse number and an extended, complex scene at the boardinghouse table (a scene that includes barbershop harmonies, glass-rim playing and more). There are print problems at times and some sound problems, but this one still earns $1.75.

Summing Up

What do we have in the second half? Two great pictures with more than adequate prints: My Man Godfrey and Behave Yourself. Five that come close: The Over-the-Hill Gang, Angel on My Shoulder, Passport to Pimlico, His Girl Friday, Pot O’ Gold. Nine more at $1.50, very good and worth rewatching. That’s 16 out of the 24 (the first half had 26 movies), a remarkable track record—and of the rest, four come in at decent ($1.25) and one at adequate ($1.00), leaving only three losers. If you include only the movies that were adequate or better, that prices out to $32.25.

It’s a much stronger second half, and adding in the $20.50 for the 15 movies in the first half that were at least adequate, I figure the set’s worth around $52.75—and it currently sells for $10.50 (apparently Mill Creek’s discontinued it, otherwise it would probably be $15). Interesting variety and a bargain.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 9, Number 13, Whole Issue 123, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Editorial Director of the Library Leadership Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

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