This Was Burlesque: THE SULTAN’S DAUGHTER (Monogram 1943)

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Monogram Pictures is mostly remembered today as the home of Bela Lugosi chillers that weren’t too chilling, Charlie Chan mysteries that weren’t so mysterious, and the Bowery Boys peculiar brand of buffoonery. The Poverty Row studio seemed to throw virtually anything at the wall hoping it would stick in order to compete with the major studios of the 1940’s (MGM, 20th Century-Fox, etc). They signed burlesque stripper Ann Corio to a contract, fresh off her appearance in 1941’s SWAMP WOMAN (released by PRC, a studio even more poverty-stricken than Monogram) and concocted a farce titled THE SULTAN’S DAUGHTER, which in spite of itself manages to entertain because of the talented comic actors in the cast.

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The opening says it all, as we gaze upon a book titled “Phony Phables”. The Sultan of Araban (Charles Butterworth ) has a daughter named Patra (Miss Corio), who owns all the country’s oil fields. Nazi agents (Jack LaRue, Gene Roth) want to buy them, but Patra will only sell to the Americans. Enter Jimmy and Tim (Eddie Norris, Tim Ryan), a pair of vaudeville hoofers stranded in Araban. The boys are duped into fronting for the Nazis to purchase the oil, passing themselves off as “subjects of the kingdom of Brooklyn”. Patra falls for Jimmy, while her American companion Irene (Irene Ryan) goes gaga for Tim. Evil Nazi sympathizer Kuda (Fortunio Bonanova ) kidnaps the sultan, Jimmy and Tim are implicated, then vindicated, and by film’s end, everything turns out for the best.

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Ann Corio’s quite a lovely women, but as an actress, she’s a great stripper. Ann doesn’t do any peeling here, but her costume’s skimpy enough to show her stuff to good advantage. A star of the Minsky’s Burlesque circuit, her movie career was brief. She later put together a traveling review titled THIS WAS BURLESQUE that was quite a successful nostalgia show. Supporting stars Tim and Irene Ryan were vaudeville veterans who had an act similar to Burns & Allen. Tim became a mainstay at Monogram, acting in and writing for many of their films. He’s pretty funny here, so I guess I can forgive him for his atrocious screenplay BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA . Wife Irene gets to display her comic talents, and has a pleasant singing voice. She’s best known of course for her long run as Granny on TV’s THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES!

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Then there’s Freddie “Schnicklefritz” Fisher and his orchestra. These guys were kind of cornpone precursors to Spike Jones, mixing comedy with swing music. Speaking of which, there’s plenty of jitterbugging and hepcat talk here. Director Arthur Dreifuss was an old pro at low-budget musical comedies geared for young audiences, helming many a Gale Storm production at Monogram. He concluded his career directing 1960’s youth flicks like RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP and THE YOUNG RUNAWAYS.

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THE SULTAN’S DAUGHTER is a fun little film, but certainly not essential viewing. It’s the product of a bygone era, a time when low-budget studios like Monogram churned out programmers designed to entertain the public and take their minds off the war for an hour or so. I’d recommend it to fans of Monogram Pictures, Ann Corio, or Irene Ryan. And any fans of Freddie “Schnicklefritz” Fisher, if there are any left out there!

TCM + Criterion Partner for FilmStruck Streaming Service

Big news from TCM and Criterion, courtesy of Will McKinley’s great blog, “Cinematically Insane”!!

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Film Struck“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon wrote in “Beautiful Boy.”

And FilmStruck, a just-announced subscription video-on-demand service from TCM, is what happens to Old Movie Weirdos while we’re waiting for the option to subscribe directly to TCM without cable or satellite.

To be clear: FilmStruck is not a standalone streaming version of Turner Classic Movies. But what it is (or will be when it launches this fall) is potentially something even better – a unique programming alternative to the linear TV channel with the same expert curation that’s made TCM beloved by fans for more than two decades. And while the service will not focus primarily on the Studio Era (as TCM does on-air), FilmStruck is expected to include a wealth of content that will appeal to those who prefer films of an older vintage. 

For a monthly subscription price expected to be in “the…

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Still Funny After All These Years: Harold Lloyd in THE MILKY WAY (Paramount 1936)

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Harold Lloyd was one of the “Big 3” comedy stars of the Silent Era, right up there with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in popularity. I’ve viewed and enjoyed comic gems like SAFETY LAST and THE FRESHMAN, and some of his hilarious shorts. His bespectacled, energetic character was wildly popular in the Roaring Twenties, but with the advent of sound and The Great Depression, audiences turned away from Harold’s brand of comedy. Recently, I watched 1936’s THE MILKY WAY and wondered why they did, because Harold Lloyd was just as funny as ever in it, and the film is just as good as any screwball comedy of the era.

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Harold plays Burleigh Sullivan, a milquetoast milkman constantly in hot water for failing to meet his quotas. When a pair of drunken ruffians try to hit on his sister, meek Burleigh is forced to come to her defense. A fight breaks out, and Burleigh emerges from the pile victorious. The fight hits the papers because it seems Burleigh has knocked out the world’s middleweight champion! In reality, the milkman never touched him… he’s just a good ducker, and the champ’s friend did the slugging (seems Burleigh was picked on by bullies in his schooldays, and learned how to dodge a punch).

The champ’s manager, shifty “Honest” Gabby Sloan, tries to persuade Burleigh to get in the ring, but timid Burleigh declines. When Burleigh’s beloved milk wagon horse Agnes falls ill, the milkman changes his mind, needing money for the sick nag. What Burleigh doesn’t realize is Sloan and his gang plan on setting him up with a series of pugs taking dives so they can clean up at the box office for the big matchup between Burleigh and champ Speed McFarlane.

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It’s all pretty silly, but serves as a showcase for Lloyd’s comedic gifts. His physical agility is put to good use, he has a fine voice that fits his personality, and I really don’t understand why he wasn’t able to make the successful transition to talkies. After one more starring vehicle, 1938’s PROFESSOR BEWARE, Lloyd was off the screen until teaming with director Preston Sturges for THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK (1947), a sequel to Lloyd’s silent hit THE FRESHMAN.

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Lloyd is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, led by Adolphe Menjou as the scheming promoter Gabby. Gravel voiced Lionel Stander is dimwitted henchman Spider, William Gargan the chump of a champ, and Verree Teasdale (Mrs. Menjou offscreen) Gabby’s wisecracking moll. Helen Mack (star of SON OF KONG) plays sister Mae, Dorothy Wilson is Burleigh’s girl Polly (they “meet cute” when Harold needs a phone to call a doctor for his horse at 3AM), and Marjorie Gateson is a scream as society matron Mrs. Winthrop Lemoyne (who Harold gives a ducking lesson to in another funny scene). Charles Lane plays a reporter, Murry Alper a cabbie, and if you look real close, you’ll spot Anthony Quinn making his film debut as a fight spectator.

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Leo McCarey was an old pro when it came to directing comedy. McCarey got his start at Hal Roach studios, working with the likes of Charlie Chase and Laurel & Hardy. When talkies arrived, he was the go-to guy for the top comedians of the day: The Marx Brothers (DUCK SOUP ), W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, Mae West. McCarey won two Oscars in his career, for 1937’s screwball hit THE AWFUL TRUTH and the sentimental 1944 GOING MY WAY. Many of you are probably familiar with Harold Lloyd’s silent classics, but don’t take his talkies for granted. If they’re anything like THE MILKY WAY, they’ll be worth watching.

 

 

Bravo for RIO BRAVO (Warner Brothers 1959)

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If there’s such a thing as the quintessential “John Wayne Movie”, RIO BRAVO may very well be it. Producer/director Howard Hawks created the perfect blend of action and humor, leading an all-star cast through this tale of a stand-off between the good guys and the bad guys. RIO BRAVO’s theme has been done over many times, most notably by John Carpenter in 1976’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Hawks himself remade the film, with Wayne again starring, as EL DORADO and RIO LOBO, but the original remains the best of the bunch.

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The plot itself is pretty basic. When disgraced deputy Dude (called Borrachon, Spanish for ‘big drunk’) walks into a saloon looking for booze, no-good Joe Burdette tosses a silver dollar into a spittoon for kicks. Sheriff John T. Chance stops Dude from embarrassing himself, only to receive a whack in the head for his efforts. Dude goes after Joe and a fight breaks out, and Joe kills a man in cold blood. Chance ends up arresting Joe for murder, realizing Joe’s cattle baron brother Nathan Burdette will try to spring the neer-do-well before the U.S. Marshal arrives in town. Chance has Joe locked up under the watchful eye of the crippled old geezer Stumpy, whose land was taken by the evil Burdette clan.

Chance’s old pal, wagon master Pat Wheeler, rolls into town and offers to help, but Chance turns him down, not wanting to put his friend in danger. One of Wheeler’s men, the fast-gun kid Colorado, could be of service but doesn’t want to get involved. The stagecoach pulls in, carrying flirtatious card sharp Feathers, and is sabotaged by Burdette’s men, hoping to delay the Marshal’s arrival. When Wheeler is killed by Burdette’s hired guns, Colorado changes his mind and joins the fight to hold Joe as Burdette’s hired killers lay siege on the jail.

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This sets the stage for action and some fine character studies from the cast. Predominant among them is John Wayne as the stalwart Sheriff Chance, determined to uphold the law no matter what the price. It’s really the beginning of the “John Wayne Movie” formula the actor followed in his 60’s and 70’s movies. That caused many critics to complain that The Duke was basically playing the same role in all his films. There’s some truth to that in his latter-day films (notable exceptions being TRUE GRIT and THE SHOOTIST). But at this juncture of his career, Wayne was more Movie Star than Actor, his films being box office smashes no matter what he was playing. John Wayne had more than proved himself as an actor for years (check him out in STAGECOACH, RED RIVER, SANDS OF IWO JIMA, THE QUIET MAN, or THE SEARCHERS for proof of that). He may have been coasting along for the last twenty years of his career, but any notions that he couldn’t act had been dispelled long ago, and indeed, he won the Oscar for his Rooster Cogburn turn in 1969’s TRUE GRIT. If he wanted to just make “John Wayne Movies” by that point, he’d earned the right, and filmgoers didn’t seem to mind. They were always entertaining star vehicles and became a kind of genre of their own.

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Duke was surrounded in RIO BRAVO by a top-notch supporting cast. Dean Martin (Dude) was still trying to shed the “Jerry Lewis’s partner” tag in the late 50’s, and his portrayal of the alcoholic deputy went a long way towards that goal. Martin was another actor who was accused of trading in on his persona rather than giving a good performance, but he was more than up to the challenge when given solid material. Teen idol Ricky Nelson (Colorado), who shot to fame on his parents TV show THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, truthfully wasn’t much in the acting department, being cast here mainly to draw in the younger crowd. He was a better singer than actor, as Nelson proves in the middle of the film by dueting with Martin on “My Rifle, My Pony, & Me”, then a rousing “Get Along, Cindy” with Dino and (of all people) Walter Brennan ! The triple Oscar winner channels his inner Gabby Hayes here as the crotchety old-timer Stumpy, always complaining about Chance but remaining forever loyal

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Angie Dickinson (Feathers) was just beginning her career in Hollywood, and RIO BRAVO was her breakthrough role. Wayne’s old pal and frequent costar Ward Bond (Wheeler) was known by this time as another wagon master, Major Seth Adams of the TV hit WAGON TRAIN. The rest of the cast is rounded out by sagebrush vets Claude Akins, John Russell , Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez, Bob Steele, Bing Russell, and Myron Healey .

Behind the scenes, screenwriters Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett  crafted a great script based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell. The dialogue sparkles with wit, especially the scenes between straight-laced Chance and the seductive Feathers. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score includes the use of the haunting theme “Deguello”, played while Santa Anna’s troops laid siege to The Alamo, setting just the right mood. DP Russell Harlan worked with director Hawks on several films. He was a six-time Oscar nominee who never got his due.

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The same could be said about Howard Hawks, who only received one nomination (for 1941’s SERGEANT YORK) during his illustrious career. That may be due to the fact Hawks was so adept at any genre he worked in, whether it be western, screwball comedy, noir, even musicals and science fiction. Just a short list from his filmography highlights some of Hollywood’s greatest movies: SCARFACE (1932), BRINGING UP BABY (1938), HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944), THE BIG SLEEP (1946), RED RIVER (1948), THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953). Hawks was finally recognized by the Academy with a lifetime achievement award in 1975, two years before his death. He remains one of America’s most influential directors of the Golden Age.

After Colorado warns that Walter Brennan (Stumpy) is standing next to a wagon full of dynamite, the older man retrieves a box of explosives and joins Chance.

RIO BRAVO is one of nine Hawks films declared culturally significant by the Library of Congress to be included in the National Film Registry. Besides that lofty designation, it’s a fun film that moves briskly along despite its two-hour, twenty-minute running time. Obviously, I love this movie, otherwise I wouldn’t be so long-winded here. The word “classic” gets bandied about pretty regularly when people discuss older films, but RIO BRAVO is one that’s well deserving of the sobriquet. Those who’ve never watched it owe it to themselves to go out and do so. And for those who have, rewatch and be amazed at Hollywood filmmaking at its finest!

 

When Doves Cry: RIP Prince

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This morning, I learned both Chyna and Guy Hamilton had died. These weren’t exactly unexpected deaths. Chyna, the former wrestler and porn star, had struggled with substance abuse issues for many years. Hamilton, director of such James Bond films as GOLDFINGER, LIVE AND LET DIE, and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, was age 93.

But Prince? That caught me completely off guard.

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The iconic rocker was 57, and had just recently performed in Atlanta. He burst on the scene with a hybrid of psychedelic funk rock that was uniquely Prince. Hit albums like DIRTY MIND, CONTROVERSY, 1999, AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY, and SIGN “O” THE TIMES became classics as Prince crossed musical, racial,  and gender borders to create his own distinct artistic vision. He was one of the first black artist to be featured in heavy rotation on MTV, back when they actually were about music, and his visual style helped bring a wider audience to his music. He starred in the mega-hit film PURPLE RAIN, followed by UNDER THE CHERRY MOON and GRAFFITI BRIDGE.

Musicians like Sheila E, Morris Day, Vanity 6, and Apollonia got their starts with Prince. His songs were covered by everyone from Sinead O’Connor to Tom Jones:

He was a maverick in the music business who once changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. He battled with record companies, determined to hold the rights to his music, even pulling his videos from YouTube. The best I could find is this live rendition of the classic PURPLE RAIN:

RIP, Prince Rogers Nelson. The doves are crying tonight.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town: WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (20th Century Fox 1950)

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I recorded WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS way back in June, and haven’t watched it until just recently. It was well worth the wait, for this is one of the finest noirs I’ve seen yet. Director Otto Preminger reunited with the stars of his film LAURA, Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney, to give us a bleak crime drama that more than holds its own with the best films noir of the era.

Police Detective Mark Dixon (Andrews) is a proto-Dirty Harry cop, a tough SOB not above laying the smackdown on New York City’s criminal element. Another assault charge leads to Mark being demoted by his superiors. Mark’s got a reason for his brutality tactics, though: his father was a criminal, and he’s psychologically compelled to clean up the corruption in his city.

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He’s particularly got a hair across his ass about gambling czar Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), who was set up in business by Mark’s father. When a murder occurs at one of Scalise’s floating crap games, Mark wants to pin it on the gangster, but new Lt. Thomas (Karl Malden) warns him not to fly off the handle. Suspect Kenneth Paine (Craig Stevens) is tracked down by Mark, and a scuffle breaks out. Mark kills Paine accidentally, and covers it up by making it look like Paine’s left town. Paine’s ex-wife, model Morgan (Tierney) was also at the crap game, and Mark questions her. Things take a wrong turn when Morgan’s cab driver dad Jiggs (Tom Tully ) winds up implicated for Paine’s death, and now Mark has to prove the old man’s innocence without letting the truth about himself be known.

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WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS is a classic example of the “downward spiral” in noir. The web of lies Mark’s spun causes things to rapidly spin out of control. Preminger keeps things moving at a fast clip from a taut screenplay by Ben Hecht. DP Joseph LaShelle’s black & white photography is appropriately stark and as good as his Oscar-winning job on LAURA, as is Louis Loeffler’s editing. Cyril Mockridge’s score set just the right tone.

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Andrews and Tierney made a solid screen team, and Merrill is surprisingly good as a gangster type. Besides those previously mentioned, Familiar Faces in the cast are Bert Freed, Ruth Donnelly, Neville Brand, Robert F. Simon, and Harry Von Zell. And Tierney’s then-husband, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, has a bit as (what else?) a fashion designer. WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS may be no LAURA, but it compares favorably to genre titles like THE BIG HEAT and THE KILLERS. It’s an underrated treat noir fans won’t want to miss.

It Was A Very Good Year: LOST, LONELY, AND VICIOUS (Howco 1958)

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Happy birthday to me! Yes, I share my birthday with such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Christine McIntyre, Peter Ustinov, Henry Mancini, and coach Bill Belichick! Seeing as how we here in Massachusetts have a three-day weekend (Patriot’s Day on Monday), I’ll be pretty busy. But before I step away from the blogosphere for a few days, I thought I’d try to find something to share from the year I was born (yes, I’m THAT old!!).

What I stumbled upon was LOST, LONELY, AND VICIOUS, a fictional retelling of the James Dean mystique, right down to the two leads (superficially) resembling Dean and his REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE co-star, Natalie Wood. It’s the story of Johnny Dennis (initials JD, get it?), a young actor “obsessed with death” on the cusp of stardom. Despite the awful acting and wretched dialogue, I kind of enjoyed it. No accounting for taste, I guess! There aren’t any actors of note here, except perhaps Lilyan Chauvin as Johnny’s drama coach Tanya. She was a real-life acting coach whose best known film role was probably as Mother Superior in the holiday slasher flick SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT .

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From Howco International, the folks who brought you such classics as THE BRAIN FROM PLANT AROUS and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, amuse yourselves by watching LOST, LONELY, AND VICIOUS. See you in a few days, film fans!

Pre Code Confidential #5: HOLLYWOOD PARTY (MGM 1934)

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One of the most bizarre films of the Pre-Code (or any) era is HOLLYWOOD PARTY. This practically plotless hodgepodge stars Jimmy Durante as jungle movie hero Schnarzan, whose films are tanking at the box office. The public has grown tired of his battles with “moth-eaten, toothless lions”, so his producer decides to buy new ones from the adventurer Baron Munchausen (radio star Jack Pearl doing his schtick). Schnarzan throws a big Hollywood party for the Baron, hoping to win his favor, but screen rival Liondola (dialect comic Georges Givot), disguising himself as the Grand Royal Duke of Peloponnesia, crashes the bash and tries to buy the lions for himself with the help of Oklahoma oil baron Harvey Crump (the perpetually perplexed  Charles Butterworth).

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All this is just an excuse for a series of unrelated comic bits featuring some of the era’s top funnymen. Durante, as the nominal star, gets the bulk of the material. He’s a roar in a “Schnarzan” trailer with his half-naked costar, the fiery and funny Lupe Velez. A reincarnation skit features Jimmy as Adam at the Garden of Eden and Paul Revere’s horse! He even gets to clown around with the one and only Mickey Mouse (voiced by Walt Disney), which segues into a color Disney cartoon, “Hot Chocolate Soldiers”.

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Ted Healy and his Three Stooges show up, with Moe, Larry, and Curly as autograph hounds at the door and do a bit about Neanderthal craniums with three eminent professors. Mack Sennett veteran Polly Moran is Butterworth’s social-climbing wife, who gets involved in some amorous (and racy!) situations with Durante and Givot. Young lovers Eddie Quillan and June Clyde pitch woo and sing the comical “I’ve Had My Moments”.

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But it’s Laurel & Hardy who manage to steal the film, showing up in the last half as a pair of ragamuffins who sold the lions to Baron Munchausen. Seems the Baron gave them a check for fifty thousand tiddy-winks, and they want their lions back! After some shenanigans at the front door with butler Tom Kennedy, they crash the party and meet Lupe Velez at the bar. This turns into a classic “tit for tat” bit involving Stan, Ollie, Lupe, and a bowl of raw eggs (which the team later reprised in THE BULLFIGHTERS). Stan and Ollie let one of the lions loose, and Schnarzan engages in a fierce battle, only to awaken from what’s been a dream Durante had after reading a Tarzan book!

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HOLLYWOOD PARTY features tons of scantily clad women in musical sequences singing and dancing to some pretty forgettable songs. It was released about a month before the Code went into effect, and edited upon rerelease by the censors. What survives is still funny, and of interest to fans of early 30’s comedy. Also in the cast are Leonid Kinskey, Edwin Maxwell, Jed Prouty, Arthur Treacher (as a butler, of course), Robert Young (doing a bit as a radio announcer), and the ubiquitous Bess Flowers (if you look close, you’ll spot her!).

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Richard Boleslavsky usually gets the director’s credit, but research has shown the film had multiple hands working on different sequences. George Stevens handled the Laurel & Hardy scenes, and Allan Dwan, Edmund Goulding, Russell Mack, Charles Reisner, Roy Rowland, and Sam Wood all took turns in the director’s chair, but who did what is up for speculation. This gives HOLLYWOOD PARTY a disconnected feeling, like a series of two-reelers slapped together, but somehow it works. It’s a zany look at Hollywood Bacchanalia before the code went into effect, and film buff’s delight. If you’re a fan of any of the comedians I’ve mentioned, it’s definately worth checking out.

More PRE-CODE CONFIDENTIAL:

Victim of Love: Clint Eastwood in THE BEGUILED (Universal 1971)

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THE BEGUILED was the third of five collaborations between star Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel. It’s definitely the most offbeat, a Gothic Western set during the Civil War. Clint plays John McBurney, a wounded, half-dead Yankee found in the woods by one of the girls from Miss Martha’s Seminary for Young Ladies. What unfolds from there is unlike anything the duo ever did before or after, a tale of sexual desire and vengeance that’s one of the most unusual entries in the Western canon.

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Clint Eastwood has one of his most unsympathetic roles as McBurney. Although we feel bad about the condition he’s in, we soon realize what an amoral, manipulative scoundrel he is. Flashbacks reveal his lies about his role in the Union Army. Even as he suffers some major “misery” (hint, hint) at the hands of Miss Martha, Clint’s McBurney isn’t a likeable figure. This offbeat casting probably contributed to the film’s box office failure, as audiences were used to seeing Clint being a mythic hero rather than a flawed human being.

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The ladies of THE BEGUILED all have their secrets. Miss Martha (Gerladine Page) was romantically involved with the school’s co-founder, who happened to be her brother. Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) is a sexually repressed virgin, while Carol (JoAnn Harris) is completely uninhibited. Hallie (blues singer Mae Mercer), a slave working for the school, has been abused by white men. Doris (Darleen Carr) is a staunch supporter of the Confederacy who finds Miss Martha’s harboring of McBurney an act of treason. Then there’s young Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin), the 12-year-old woman-child who falls hard for the handsome “Mr. McB”, only to have her love turn to hate when he drunkenly kills her pet turtle, and she becomes the instrument of the women’s revenge.

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 Geraldine Page had a wonderful career on stage, screen ,and television, and is regarded as one of the greatest actresses of her generation. I especially enjoyed her work in HONDO, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, and the NIGHT GALLERY episode “The Sins of the Fathers”. Nominated for eight Oscars, Page finally won for THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL. Elizabeth Hartman is best remembered for A PATCH OF BLUE and WALKING TALL. Darlene Carr and JoAnn Harris were prolific TV actresses during the 70’s. Melody Thomas (Abigail) went on to a 37 year run on the soap THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.

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Young Pamelyn Ferdin plays Amy, the little girl who finds McBurney. The scene where 41-year-old Clint kisses 12-year-old Pamelyn to keep her quiet while the Confederate patrol passes borders on pedophilia, and made me kind of queasy. Ferdin was a child star of the 60’s-70’s who made the TV rounds (she was Felix’s daughter on THE ODD COUPLE), and voiced Lucy in three “Peanuts” specials and movies. She also known for her performance in another creepy 70’s tale, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS.

THE BEGUILED isn’t your typical Eastwood/Siegel outing, but it will hold your interest. The acting and direction are top-notch, and the atmospheric material will please fans of Westerns and horror, and is well worth viewing today. Clint and Don failed only at the box office, as fans didn’t want to watch Clint Eastwood in such an unsavory role.  They did better with their next collaboration, a little cop movie called DIRTY HARRY.  But that’s another story for another day…

Good Day in Hell: DUCK, YOU SUCKER (United Artists 1972)

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Sergio Leone’s DUCK, YOU SUCKER is the director’s most overtly political film statement. Butchered and retitled A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE by United Artists upon its American release, the film was restored to its full glory in 2007. The print I viewed is the full 157 minute version broadcast last summer on Encore Westerns, and the result is an epic tale of revolution, the futility of war, and class struggle starring two great actors, Rod Steiger and James Coburn. Filled with violence, humor, and Leone’s signature touches, DUCK, YOU SUCKER is second only to THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY on my personal list of Leone favorites.

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The film is essentially a buddy movie at heart. Juan Miranda (Steiger) is leader of a bandito family that robs from the rich and gives to the poor… namely themselves! They come across John H. Corbett (Coburn) riding on his motorcycle. John’s an ex-IRA man on the run (as we learn in flashbacks spread throughout the film). He’s also an expert with dynamite, and Juan has visions of joining forces with John to rob the Mesa Verde National Bank. But John has other ideas, planning on going to work for a German silver mine owner. Juan isn’t easily dissuaded, though. He tricks John into blowing up the German and his men, and now John, wanted for murder, reluctantly agrees to work with the bandit.

Or so Juan thought, as John ditches Juan and his crew with the help of a speeding train. Undaunted, Juan continues on to Mesa Verde, only to be met there by John, who’s now aligned with Mexican revolutionaries. The revolutionaries attack the soldiers while J&J put their bank heist into effect. But to Juan’s chagrin, the vaults aren’t filled with Mexican gold but political prisoners, and Juan becomes a reluctant hero of the revolution! The revolutionaries are chased by the soldiers, and retreat to caves while J&J hold off the soldiers with gatling guns and blow up a bridge. The two men head to the caves, only to find everyone has been slaughtered, including Juan’s children. Juan goes on a suicide mission and is captured. He’s facing a firing squad when John swoops in like an Avenging Angel to free his buddy.

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And we’re only about halfway through the film! I’ll won’t spoil the rest for those of you who haven’t seen DUCK, YOU SUCKER yet. I’ll just say there are many more twists and turns on the two men’s journey… you’ll have to watch for yourselves. Instead, I’ll tell you the film walks a tightrope between comedy and tragedy, and its success lies in Leone’s genius as director. Leone has created an unheralded masterpiece which is only now beginning to get it’s proper due thanks to its restoration and rediscovery.

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You tend to forget what a brilliant actor Rod Steiger was if you haven’t seen him for a while. There are echoes of Eli Wallach’s Tuco from THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY in Steiger’s performance, as intended in the screenplay by Leone with Sergio Doanti and Luciano Vincenzoni. But make no mistake, Steiger puts his personal stamp on the role as the bandito more interested in gold than revolutions. James Coburn is his equal as the Irishman Corbett, a man grown weary of revolutions and killing for other people’s causes. Despite their cultural differences, Coburn and Steiger form a bond of friendship forged by mutual tragedies and their common distrust of the powers that be.

The cinematography by Guisseppe Ruzzolini is breathtaking, and the film is masterfully edited by Nino Baragli. No Leone film would be complete without Ennio Morricone, and he supplies his usual fine and unique score. The special effects are done by Antonio Margheriti, better known to film fans under the pseudonym Anthony Dawson, director of HORROR CASTLE, CASTLE OF BLOOD, THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH, WAR OF THE PLANETS, TAKE A HARD RIDE, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, and YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE.

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DUCK. YOU SUCKER was Leone’s last Western. His valedictory film, the gangster epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, would be released in 1984. Leone died at age 60 in 1989, leaving an indelible mark on film in general, and the Western genre especially. Though he’s only credited directing seven features, among those seven are some of the best Westerns cinema has to offer. Find yourself a copy of the uncut, original DUCK, YOU SUCKER and prepare to be amazed at the artistry of Sergio Leone.