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Goofy Movies Number Eight

Fascinating Early Silents + Ghastly 30's Humor
This short is both great and horrible. There are some nice looks at rare and interesting turn of the century silents but they are ruined by the dreadfully bad humor of this "Pete Smith" guy who did a whole series of unwatchable voice over things that appear regularly on TCM. So unless your sense of humor is way different than mine, you may enjoy this episode with the sound off. Unfortunately the clips used are not identified but one, a fashion show, is dated 1913. The second appears to be a kind of Brechtian underground conspiracy of phony beggars type story, there are no titles and it's badly cut so the logic of it is difficult. It does, however, give you a look at the formality of film from an era of which 80% has been lost. The last has no I.D. but I say it has to be a Georges Melies and it's shown in entirety. It's a nutty thing about a guy having his arms, legs, and head amputated and the put back on in the wrong places, etc. Ironically, this last clip seems to symbolize the silly butchery that, until very recently, films of this era had to endure.

Beat Girl

Brit Rock
I gave this a 10 because I only give two ratings, 10 or zero, pass or no pass. Let's talk about Brit Rock. I was 15 and growing up in the US when this movie came out and there was no such term as Brit Rock. When the Beatles, Stones, and the others came out I completely disregarded them. Who needs these guys doing Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley when we have the real thing. Eventually I came to appreciate what they were doing and soon developed a deep admiration for the British rock movement going back to the 50's. This movie, though fraught with awkwardness, has some very telling points. A very important point is made when the kids were discussing the war scars. We Americans knew nothing of that. To us rock was just a big jolly product. But these kids had a way more emotional need for it and they took it more seriously and they wound up exporting our own music right back to us and basically saved Rock and Roll. Now the bad part of this film is the pre posterous and thoroughly embarrassing "hip talk" although all the American rock films of the time did pretty well the same thing. And the plot is pretty tiresome but it still shows that basic need for rock, the big thing about rock has always been that need. It's like in the Lou Reed song, "her life was saved by rock and roll". Goofy as this movie is, it does convey that message.

El mundo del Lundo

That show was hilarious, way better than that stupid Mystery Science whatever you call it. Is it not available on DVD or VHS ? Plus that along with the first 13 episodes of Trailer Park Boys proves there is such a thing as extraordinary Canadian humor. We have a zillion cable channels showing nothing and here's something great you can't find. I just accidentally found an episode I didn't know I had on an old VHS I recorded off the TV and that's what got me going on this but I think of it often. They would voice over things that many of us had heard of such as The Giant Gila Monster and would also include shorts like a US Navy training film from the 60's that luridly warns against LSD or something made up from clips that offers suicidal people the opportunity to be hunted down in a jungle. A must see.

Gentleman's Fate

Thoroughly entertaining
What on earth is everyone's problem with this movie? It has some awkward movement but so did most movies of this era before Hollywood developed its amazing (and often irritating) slickness. The story is kind of a goofy fantasy as are most movies from since they day they were born to the present moment. This is a really fun movie with a great cast. Anita Page and Marie Provost were great bad girls, especially Provost as the gangland superflooze. George Cooper and John Miljan were very entertaining bad boys. But Louis Walheim was the real gem of the piece, sort of a cross between Shrek and Marie Dressler dressed like a guy. As for John Gilbert , I can see how how this may have been a form of career sabotage because he wasn't able to be nearly as gallant as his public wanted to see him. But he demonstrated great range and his chemistry with the whole cast and particularly with Walheim and Page was wonderful. The dialogue was good and the much of the shooting was visually interesting. Of course it doesn't hurt to be a big fan of pre code gangster movies, Hollywood history, and Depression Era cultural history.

Born to Be Wild

Pure delight
Joseph Kane seems to have some kind of golden touch. The low budget films he directs would appear to be very depressing and embarrassing to the cast. Or so you would think. In Kane's films, he seems to be able to get them to see the light side and have fun and this shows. This is what I like about them. the plots are ludicrous and brutally contrived but they are less like film and more about a surprisingly enjoyable house party. That's why his westerns are so fun. There's no Oscar stress, it's the depression, and they're working. Look at Public Cowboy No. 1 or Man From Music Mountain. In Born to be Wild we have a couple of guys driving a truck and having some pretty crazy problems. Ralph Byrd shows way more personality than in those Dick Tracy things. The female lead is a very appealing Doris Weston who had practically no career. The surprise for me was Ward Bond who showed great range and personality as a curmudgeonly truck driver who was capable of being the life of the party with a hilarious rumba. The relaxed wit and chemistry among these three is excellent. The other great thing about this film is the location shooting and the period atmosphere. You can't fully enjoy this film unless you have an interest in 30's history. They show things like a picket line, a hokey land developer, etc. And the film moves along, you never wallow in tedium. As usual in a Kane film, even the bad guys seem to be having fun. The story, well I don't know.


Failure as a movie but great fun
It's nice to be among my fellow Dragnet fans. There is an important point to be made about the fifties and that is that it was an age of excess. It was big brass, big dance number, and big build up to every stupid little deal to the point that it was obnoxious and oppressive, especially to a kid. The landmarks in pop culture of the era were things that stood in opposition to that and provided blessed relief with a sense of brevity and minimalism. In westerns it was the emotionally and geographically beak landscape of Kansas in Gunsmoke. In comedy there was a show called The Honeymooners with a set that consisted of a table, one or two chairs, and a door that Ed Norton kept bursting through. In jazz it was the three, four, and five piece combos as opposed to big band. In popular music, it was Elvis with lead, rhythm, bass, and drums. (Actually not even drums at first). But the Daddy of them all was Dragnet. Terse is not the word. It's minimalism was blatantly self conscious to the point of absurdity. The public was stunned. It had the effect of being stripped of all nonsense so that you thought you were seeing the real thing. You weren't but you sure thought you were. When Joe Friday came on with his tired monotone and said "This.......is the city........it has churches........it has schools........it has parks.......", we thought it was so cool we could hardly stand it. But the biggest quote was "just the facts, ma'am". We used to repeat that all over the playground. Every time somebody was going too far it was "hey there, just the facts". And that's why the movie is a failure. That incredibly stylish brevity can't be stretched out. It has to be a half hour, otherwise it just looks like they're going around in circles. However the movie is still very enjoyable and a worthy addition to your collection (or mine anyway). The reason for that is that the movie has plenty of this other thing that the TV show was famous for which a vast array of delightfully god awful two bit loser punk criminals. Dragnet never dealt with Mr. Big, it was always these awful little two bit people, con men, purse snatchers, etc. There was even one incredible child molester episode (The Big Crime Sept 9, 1954). Jack Webb could really get the creepy feel going with these characters. I don't know if it's my imagination but does LA have a creepier underworld than other cities? Maybe the authors and screenwriters have made it seem so. But I recently read a biographical sketch of Barbara Graham (I Want To Live) and I honestly wish I hadn't, it was too creepy. So anyway in the movie you lose the terseness but keep the criminals. As for the color, of course it's not Dragnet but it's still fun if only for the sake of contrast. So check it out. Tell them Groucho sent you.

Red Dust

Great Movie
It's 1932. You're not white. Oh boy is right. Red Dust is an excellent movie. It has signature performances by the great stars, Harlowe and Gable. Every aspect of it's greatness has been duly and extensively noted and they are all perfectly true. This movie should not be missed by anyone. However it is not just a movie, it is a historical document. As a historical document it it should also not be missed by anyone. It gives you a real good look at the problems and weaknesses of American culture in the thirties. When you have to take a human being and make him act stupider than a monkey in order to satisfy your own racial conceits you are in a heap of trouble. This was the state of our culture in the thirties. (I say "our" because I live in Canada but I'm an American). We have to look at this stuff so we can appreciate what people of color were going through in those days. Look at Willie Best in High Sierra, it's excruciating. Non-whites were being used for comic relief and nothing else. So what of the big stars? What are they thinking? I don't know. But one thing I think is very important is that they should not be referred to as "idols". They aren't idols, they are human beings. You don't pray to them. If you want to pray, you pray to God, not Clark Gable. As performers, Gable and Harlowe get 10 out of 10. For commitment to the cause of racial justice, they pull zeroes. When you look at this movie, you look at the extraordinary talent that made legends of these people. You also use your head, figure out what the mistakes are, and try real hard not to make the same ones yourself. That's how you look at this movie. It's also how you look at America. There's no need for a big hysterical kerfluffle about it.

The Star Packer

I love all thirties B Westerns
The reason I like these matinée westerns from this era is probably because they make me feel like a kid again but I have other reasons that I think are pretty good. For one thing they are utterly without pretense. They do not pretend to be anything but entertainment for kids and unpretentiousness is real hard to find. There may be some out there but if you look for it you will find that it doesn't grow on trees. And they're just fun. The female lead is always charming, and the horsemanship, these films are always loaded with extras that are real cowboys. Apparently the reduction of manpower needed on the large cattle ranches coincided with the rise of the film industry so all these unemployed cowboys went to Hollywood. And could they ride. They just tore around like a house on fire and the ease and control that they demonstrate with these horses is a wonder to watch for a tenderfoot like me. But the plots get a little monotonous, I think there's only about two of them or three, maybe. You have to kind of overlook that. Anyway Star Packer is no exception. What makes it stand out is for one thing it has George "Gabby" Hayes one of the greatest character actors ever. But the main thing is that it has one of my Hollywood favorites, Pendleton Round-Up Rodeo champion and pioneer stuntman Yakima Canutt. Now John Wayne made a lot of westerns in this era and Yakima Canutt was in every one of them as Wayne's stunt double. He was also in practically every one of the as one of them as one of the bad guys, usually the leader. What makes this movie special is that, as far as I know, this is the only time he ever appears as a good guy.He has a very entertaining part as John Wayne's Tonto-like side kick. This includes an extremely charming and hilarious final scene in which he completely enthralls Wayne's young son with his Indian dancing and attempts to corrupt him into becoming an Indian himself. This is much to the amusement of Wayne and his wife, Verna Hillie. I have noticed that a bunch of these John Waynes have been colorized. My brother won't look at them but I think that as long as I have access to the original, I like having them. The landscapes are particularly beautiful. It's the sound that's bad. They dub in new voices that are terrible. And the music, it's some kind of spaghetti western sounding stuff that has nothing with the charm of the era. View at your peril.

The Wild World of Batwoman

It's not about plot it's about fun
This is one of my very favorite movies. The first thing you have to understand is that it has absolutely nothing to with plot or acting. And it's certainly not intended to make sense. This is obvious from the very first scene and stays obvious to the very last. What it's really about is dance, costume, and fun. And it is very fun. It is in fact less of a movie and more of a party, a non stop party. It has wonderful characters like Ratfink, Heathcliff, and the crazy scientist with his collection of monsters. And the go-go dancers. Where is there somebody that doesn't like 60's go-go dancers? This movie is like a vacation from everything. It is actually self consciously anti plot and acting. To judge it any other way would be like coming away from a Bugs Bunny cartoon feeling all hurt and angry because it showed a rabbit talking. These women aren't crimefighters, they're dancers. What's difficult? They're dancing from start to finish. And if you don't feel like dancing we have happy pills to make you dance against your will which is like at a party where the slowpokes are dragged onto the floor. Finally I have to say that the dismal sneering banal humor of Mystery Science Theater should avoided at all costs. I mean what's funny? "Oh look, there's Sheena of the jungle"? Oh, I fell off my chair, someone give me a hand here. This is a movie that is not a movie. It' like a party or a vacation. It's like a day off in the middle of the week.

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