Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
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Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 7: May 2005


Offtopic Perspective

Family Classics 50 Movie Pack, Part 2

Disc 7

Little Lord Fauntleroy, 1936, b&w, John Cromwell (dir.), Freddie Bartholomew, Dolores Costello, Guy Kibbee, Mickey Rooney. 1:38 [1:32]

Charming in its own way, and a decent print that doesn’t seem to have six minutes missing. Freddie Bartholomew is the star; Mickey Rooney is his pal, a shoeshine boy. The envelope blurb gets the plot wrong, but that’s OK. $2

The Eagle, 1925, b&w, silent (with unrelated orchestral score), Clarence Brown (dir.), Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Bánky, Louise Dresser. 1:13. [1:30]

Here’s an oddity: The opening credits include “Music score by Michael Hoffman,” but there’s no correlation between the music (which I assume was added later) and the plot. I have no idea why IMDB’s timing is 17 minutes shorter than the actual run time of the DVD. I’ve never seen a Rudolph Valentino movie before. Here, he’s an astonishingly ineffectual hero whose main virtues are being very pretty (not handsome, pretty) and reasonably honorable. Still, it’s one of those silent classics. The print’s in poor shape, but you can watch through it. $1

The Great Dan Patch, 1949, b&w, Joseph M. Newman (dir.), Dennis O’Keefe, Ruth Warrick. 1:34.

A fine story of harness racing and true love triumphing over high society. Very good print, thoroughly enjoyable picture. $3

My Dear Secretary, 1949, b&w, Charles Martin (dir.), Kirk Douglas, Laraine Day, Keenan Wynn, Helen Walker, Rudy Vallee, Irene Ryan, 1:34

Was Kirk Douglas really that young once—not to mention Rudy Vallee, Irene Ryan, and Keenan Wynn? First-rate knockabout romantic comedy, generally excellent print with better-than-usual sound quality. Oh, and the female lead (Laraine Day) is the strongest and most sensible character in the whole group—and comes out on top in the end. $3.50

Disc 8

Royal Wedding, 1951, color, Stanley Donen (dir.), Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn. 1:33.

Fred Astaire dancing on the walls, on the ceiling, and on a cruise ship dance floor in heavy seas—with Jane Powell, who’s very good. Excellent print through most of the movie (with slight damage in a few minutes), and a wonderful movie—not much of a plot (and Peter Lawford didn’t exactly set the screen on fire with his thespian abilities), but great dancing, fine singing, and just plain charming. Technicolor, generally vivid color. $3.50

At War with the Army, 1950, b&w, Hal Walker (dir.), Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis. Polly Bergen. 1:33 [1:30]

This one was on the previous (non-TreeLine) multipack, so I didn’t watch it again. The print seems fairly good, with the sound odd (it almost reads as muffled stereo) and some damage. Lewis isn’t nearly as over the top as you might expect. $2

Our Town, 1940, b&w, Sam Wood (dir.), William Holden, Martha Scott, Guy Kibbee. 1:30.

Thornton Wilder cowrote the screenplay for his own play and weakened the originally-downbeat ending in the process, but it’s still a wonderful play. Opened up for the screen: There’s still a narrator talking directly to the audience (the stage manager in the play) but the scenes are spread throughout the town and surroundings. Mediocre print, unfortunately, with damaged sound track and picture throughout; the play deserves better. $1.50

The Little Princess, 1939, color, Walter Lang (dir.), Shirley Temple, Richard Greene, Anita Louise, Cesar Romero, Arthur Treacher. 1.31 [1:33]

This was apparently Shirley Temple’s first Technicolor movie, and she’s once again the adorable little girl who must endure suffering until it all works out in the last five minutes. That said, the print is excellent (essentially perfect, with vivid colors and clear sound), the cast includes some fine characters (Cesar Romero as an Indian major domo, Arthur Treacher as an elocution teacher/showman). Temple at this stage is too sweet for my taste, but it’s still a good movie. How early was this for Technicolor? Here’s a clue: The studio logo opening is in black and white! $4

Disc 9

My Favorite Brunette, 1947, b&w, Elliott Nugent (dir.), Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney Jr., Frank Puglia. 1:27.

The print’s generally very good, although the sound track is scratchy. An odd blend of noir mystery and Bob Hope’s comedy, with the tale narrated by Bob Hope as a children’s photographer-turned-private eye who’s on death row. Enjoyable, with a great cast. $2.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, 1957, color, Bretaigne Windust (dir.), Van Johnson, Claude Raines, Jim Backus, Kay Starr, Doodles Weaver. 1:29 [1:27]

Made for TV? While the print’s generally very good, there are quite a few little gaps—more disturbing than usual since this is a musical. Van Johnson has two roles (one of them the Pied Piper). The conceit here is that the music is all by Grieg. The problem here is that it’s a lackluster picture. OK, but no more than that. $1.

The Big Trees, 1952, color, Felix A. Feist (dir.), Kirk Douglas, Eve Miller, Edgar Buchanan, Alan Hale Jr.. 1:29.

The print’s excellent (the sound sometimes less so), but there’s not a lot of depth here. Supposedly, Kirk Douglas did this one for free to get out of a studio contract. He does as well as can be expected with the thin material. Certainly watchable, but any good movie of the week would do just as well. $1.

Beyond Tomorrow, 1940, b&w, A. Edward Sutherland (dir.), Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger, Maria Ouspenskaya, Rod La Rocque. 1:24.

The print and sound are both seriously flawed early in the movie, better later. This is a ghost story of sorts (three aging bachelor engineers sort-of adopt two struggling young people, the three are killed in a plane crash as the couple are getting engaged, the three come back as ghosts, with one of them trying to guide the couple…); it’s nicely done (and the special effects are convincing for the time), but the print gets in the way somewhat. $1.50.

Disc 10

The Flying Scotsman, 1929, b&w. Castleton Knight, dir., Ray Milland. 0:59.

Even though the opening credits mention music and show “Recorded by the RCA PhotoPhone system,” this is a silent movie with an appropriate score and lots of dialogue slides, about a train engineer (on the Flying Scotsman) who reports his associate for drinking on the job, causing the associate to be fired. The associate swears revenge. The next day is the engineer’s last run (after 30 years of on-time safe performance)—and the new associate has been making a play for the engineer’s beautiful daughter (but doesn’t know whose daughter she is).

And if that isn’t exciting enough, with the well-filmed locomotives and the likelihood of an attempted train crash, something else happens just over halfway into the film (30:12 out of 59:04)—we hear voices. And from then on, except for about a minute shortly thereafter, it’s a full-sound flick, including dialogue and the sounds of the locomotive. This was apparently one of the transitional movies, partly filmed in full sound, partly not.

Pretty good print, good soundtrack, and just enough plot for the short running time. A very young Ray Milland. Worth a look. $2.

Flying Deuces, 1939, b&w. A. Edward Sutherland (dir.), Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy. 1:09 [1:08]

If you like Laurel & Hardy, you’ll probably like this one quite a bit—they’re Americans in France who wind up in the French Foreign Legion because the fat one’s trying to forget one of the young ladies at the hotel, who he’s fallen for and who turns out to be married. The flying sequence is remarkable (and seems to wind up with the fat one dead and the other stranded somewhere in France), but otherwise it’s L&H, like ‘em or not. Decent print, some damage.

The Blacksmith, 1922, b&w, silent with unrelated orchestral score. Buster Keaton (dir. and star). 0:19

So how do you squeeze 50 movies onto 12 discs averaging six hours per disc? Stretch the definition of “movie” a little—as in some “festivals” of shorts or, in this case, a single silent short. Keaton’s a blacksmith’s apprentice during that period when blacksmiths dealt with horses and cars interchangeably. This isn’t the subtle acting Keaton; this is physical comedy, and lots of it. The music is wildly inappropriate (Pomp & Circumstance?). The print’s pretty good. $1 on its own.

Africa Screams, 1949, b&w. Charles Barton (dir.), Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Clyde Beatty, Frank Buck, Max Baer, Buddy Baer, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser. 1:19.

Another overlap with the freebie DoubleDoubles, so I didn’t watch it in full. The print seems to be in good shape; the sound almost seems to be stereo at times, but that’s probably just damage. As I noted last year, this is a relatively low-key movie, even with two of the Three Stooges in small parts. Enjoyable. $2.

The Magic Sword, 1962, color. Bert I. Gordon (dir.), Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood, Gary Lockwood, Anne Helm, Liam Sullivan. 1:20.

Bert I. Gordon wrote, directed, produced, and (with his wife) did the special effects for this story—released by United Artists, but clearly not a big-budget movie. (The special effects probably don’t stand up to close scrutiny—or, really, any scrutiny.) You get  Basil Rathbone as a villainous sorcerer (Lodak), Estelle Winwood as a slightly batty 400-year-old witch, Gary Lockwood as her adopted son (of many generations royal blood), Anne Helm as the beautiful young princess kidnapped by Lodak to be fed to his dragon a week later (the dragon needs one woman a week, but in this case there’s also bad blood with the king), and Liam Sullivan as the treacherous knight who says he’ll rescue her for half of the kingdom and her hand in marriage.

Gary Lockwood and six sometimes-dead knights from six nations get involved, seven curses come into play, little men clench their hands in front of the princess in her cell (I’m not sure why repeated hand-clenching is supposed to be terrifying, but she reacts appropriately), the witch gets a spell wrong and undoes Lockwood’s magic sword instead of doubling its powers…and, well, there’s lots of plot here, including the witch’s chess-playing monkey and two-headed servant. Pretty good print, slightly damaged sound, cheapo scenery and some name-actor chewing thereof. I can’t figure out how a 1962 film got into the public domain, but this is cheapo fantasy despite the cast. Maybe UA just let TreeLine use it for nothing? Not bad, actually. $2.

Disc 11

Father’s Little Dividend, 1951, b&w. Vincente Minelli (dir.), Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor, Don Taylor, Billie Burk, Russ Tamblyn, Paul Harvey. 1:22 [1:19].

Somewhat faded print with some missing moments, damaged soundtrack. All of which is too bad, because it’s a good movie with Spencer Tracy in deadpan comedic form. The plot turned up again in Father of the Bride 2. $1.50.

Utopia, 1951, b&w. Léo Joannon (dir.), Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Suzy Delair. 1:22.

The print’s in fair shape (a few missing frames)—but this is the last Laurel & Hardy movie and it shows. The act was getting old, as were the actors. Apparently filmed in France (running 1:40 as Atoll K in the French version), with all actors except L&H dubbed. Watchable, but made me feel that one Laurel and Hardy every five years was enough. $1

The Big Chance, 1933, b&w. Albert Herman (dir.), John Darrow, Mickey Rooney, J. Carrol Naish. 1:02 [1:00]

I’m surprised the timing is only two minutes short: The dialogue has so many gaps that I gave up halfway through. The print is OK otherwise, but I found this unwatchable.

Kid Dynamite, 1943, b&w. Wallace Fox (dir.), Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, etc. 1:07 [1:06].

Speaking of unwatchable…I gave up on this one after the first 15 minutes, not because of the print but because I just couldn’t hack another movie with the East Side Kids. This was the third one in the set; that’s at least two too many.

Disc 12

The Iron Mask, 1929, b&w, silent (with score, narration by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. , and sound effects added in 1952), Allan Dwan (dir.), Douglas Fairbanks. 1:35 or 1:43 [1:12]

Here’s an oddity: A silent movie with full orchestral score, continuous narration, and sound effects. The way I saw it, the release date is 1952, it’s a lot shorter (1:12), and there’s sound throughout–a composed musical score, generally-appropriate sound effects (horses, dogs, pistol shots), and most importantly, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. does a rousing narration throughout the movie. Impressive. Although I wonder about the other 20 minutes. Maybe they were cut on purpose: One review of the full flick says it’s slowed by long flashback sequences, and there are no flashbacks in the movie I saw.

You may think of Douglas Fairbanks as “Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.”–but he was never billed that way! This is good but not great Douglas Fairbanks, with a fair amount of humor and swordplay mixed in with the “further adventures of the Four Musketeers” plot. Decent print quality, decent sound. $2.

The Lost World, 1925, b&w/tinted and toned, silent with unrelated score, Harry A. Hoyt (dir.), Wallace Beery, Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Arthur Conan Doyle. 1:04 or 1:33 [1:08]

On the positive side, this movie has remarkably good special effects for 1925 (the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures aren’t perfect, but they’re not laughable either), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appearing briefly in a movie based on his novel, and Wallace Beery as a classic mad professor, with hair out to there and a temper to match. It’s good fun. On the negative side, it’s a little choppy at times and the print’s in so-so condition. $1.50.

W. C. Fields Festival, consisting of The Dentist, 1932 [0:21], The Golf Specialist, 1930 [0:20], and The Fatal Glass of Beer, 1933 [0:20]. All b&w, W.C. Fields.

The Fatal Glass of Beer is supposed to be one of Fields’ greatest flicks. It’s certainly a little surreal and a prime example of well-played schtick, particularly the repeated “It ain’t a fit night out for man nor beast” with its consistent results. The other two have less story and more descent into simple slapstick. I thought I was a W.C. Fields fan; I found this trio disappointing. Fairly good print and sound quality. $1.

The Road to Hollywood, 1946, b&w, Bud Pollard (dir.), Bing Crosby, Bud Pollard (narrator). 0:56 [0:53]

It would be nice for the set to go out with a bang, but this is more of a whimper. Bud Pollard, an exploitation director, came up with a stunt to make some quick bucks. He uncovered three comedy shorts made by Danny Kaye for Mack Sennett; when Danny Kaye hit it big in the movies, Pollard stitched footage from the three into a movie he called Birth of a Star—a perfect second feature for theaters that could advertise a big-name star. So Pollard did the same again, this time stitching together excerpts from four Mack Sennett two-reelers starring Bing Crosby, made in 1931 and 1932, with lots of Pollard narration and laudatory comments. The whole thing is just a different form of exploitation. The four short musical comedies on their own might be interesting; the composite is a mess. The print’s only so-so.

The Second Half—and the Whole

By my estimation, the second half is worth $40—and I think the comparison to the $59 for the first half is about right. While there are some excellent movies here, the set seemed to run out of steam toward the end. But what I’m saying is that this $25-$33 set is worth $99 by my fairly tight reckoning. That’s an incredible bargain.

In terms of my random education in early cinema, I have these first impressions from this set as a whole:

Ø    Rudolph Valentino seems more pretty boy than actor, but that may be the part.

Ø    Douglas Fairbanks was first-rate in every respect.

Ø    My memory of the Three Stooges and Laurel & Hardy suffers when faced with the actual footage, but Abbott & Costello still look good. The East Side Kids? Not to my taste.

Ø    Some silent pictures were great. Some were terrible. No news there!

Till the Clouds Roll By, A Star is Born, Long John Silver, The Inspector General, The Time of Your Life, The Scarlet Pimpernel, My Dear Secretary, Royal Wedding, The Little Princess: Nine first-rate movies with excellent or very good prints for $25 bucks. Think of the other 41 as a bonus—and, in the cases of Life with Father, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Last Time I Saw Paris, The Jungle Book, Gulliver’s Travels, The Kid, Son of Monte Cristo, Captain Kidd, A Farewell to Arms, and The Black Pirate, those bonuses are distinctly worth watching.

If you just can’t stand b&w movies, you should skip this set. Otherwise—it could be better, but even beyond the 19 movies listed here, it’s pretty good.

Moving on

The second megapack I purchased was the Sci-Fi set. They’re mostly C flicks. Watching 50 in a row might be a bit rough. Then I picked up two later sets—the megapack of good-quality TV movies, and the recent megapack with heavyweight Hollywood star power.

I’m chickening out—or finding a balance. I’ll split exercising between cheap sci-fi and classy TV movies, one disc at a time. That means it will be at least six months before another Offtopic Perspective, if I keep doing them here. Meanwhile, as part of the ever-evolving relationship between Cites & Insights and Walt at random (walt.lishost.org), I’ll probably post reviews for each disc on the weblog as I finish each disc—four (or five) movies at a time.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 7, Whole Issue 63, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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