Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day = Jack Benny Day!

February 14 turns out to be both Valentine's Day and the birthday of Benny Kubelsky, a.k.a. Jack Benny, a fellow who has made this blogger laugh all his life and continues to make him laugh!

Well, the dyed-in-the-wool comedy geeks at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog (right now listening to Marty Allen tell jokes and talk about Groucho Marx on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast) could not let that birthday go!

Jack's radio shows are available online via and a splendid playlist on David Von Pein's Old-Time Radio Channel on YouTube.

Here are some super interviews with Jack, the first with Johnny Carson, known to go into Jack's mannerisms on The Tonight Show.

For more info, read the following overview of Benny's show business career that author Trav S.D. has penned on his Stars Of Vaudeville blog, as well as just one of many terrific posts about Jack Benny and radio from Don Yowp's blog, Tralfaz.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Cheap Thrills For A $1.98 Budget: The B-Noir

At this year's Noir City 16 film festival, this hard-boiled blogger relished the A-pictures, but also found himself highly entertained by the Bs. Some this writer had never seen or heard of, such as the newsroom noir High Tide, starring fast-talking Lee Tracy.

Alas, 15 years and 15,000 stiff drinks transpired between Tracy's memorable appearances as slick operators, gossip columnists, p.r. flim-flam men and obsessed journalists in a slew of pre-code masterpieces (Blessed Event, The Half-Naked Truth, The Night Mayor, Love Is A Racket, Washington Merry-Go-Round - to name just a few) and High Tide.

So Lee looked like hell and his patented "machine gun" style delivery was a tad less rapid fire, but he still embodied his signature newsman role from first frame to last in this fast-moving Monogram Pictures production. Eddie Muller, the Czar Of Noir and author of Dark City The Lost World Of Film Noir and Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir, elaborates in his intro to High Tide, featuring Tracy, Don Castle and Julie Bishop (who the denizens of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog recognize from her appearance, under the name Jacqueline Wells, in a 1932 Laurel & Hardy 2-reeler, Any Old Port).

A striking opus at Noir City 16 that fully lived up to the phrase "trashy B" was Night Editor, co-starring William Gargan of the Martin Kane Private Eye TV series and the wonderfully over-the-top Janis Carter, who portrays a horny, thrill-seeking socialite with crazed enthusiasm.

The 2018 festival finished with Wicked Woman, a deliciously tawdry little programmer starring blonde bombshell Beverly Michaels.

Her co-star, Richard Egan, becomes more like "Dick" Egan as the lust triangle storyline progresses.

Beverly Michaels also played a femme fatale part with mustard, relish and pickles in the Hugo Haas directed noir Pickup.

As Michaels would hit bombshell roles out of the park in Pickup, Betrayed Women and Blonde Bait, while also nailing parts in television (Cheyenne, Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Haas would go on to produce a few more B-thrillers for Columbia starring former serial queen Cleo Moore.

It's clear that in the latter 1940's, B-noirs were cranked out so quickly, efficiently and in such quantity that not even the most avid classic movie buff could possibly see all of them - and the granddaddy of economically produced noirs would be Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour, truly a brilliant piece of work produced for PRC on such a microscopic budget that Roger Corman very likely viewed it for inspiration and asked "how did Edgar do it?"

Ann Savage's blistering performance as a gal you don't want to mess with still commands both the moviegoing audience and doomed co-star Tom Neal.

While not anywhere near as cheap as the Monogram and PRC films, Rudolf Maté's D.O.A. is a personal favorite that crams maximum style, creativity, unabashed exaggeration and filmmaking swagger into a programmer budget.

The appearance in D.O.A. of swing-bop-r&b saxophone genius Illinois Jacquet, rocking the house at The Fisherman nightclub, is an added plus.

Wrapping this post up: the trailer for a film with the unrelenting spirit and frenzied action of a hard-hitting B picture along the lines of Detour, but produced on an A-budget . . . Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Lady in the Tutti Fruiti Hat: Showgirls & Produce

Today, we, as big fans of Warner Brothers pre-code musicals, happily contribute to The Busby Berkeley Blogathon, hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood.

Fortunately, the excellent writer Kellee Pratt has gone a long way to answer the difficult question of how one even begins to write about the visionary (and quite possibly stark raving mad) director/choreographer in her post, Busby Berkeley Choreography: Geometric Gems.

First a celebrated dance director on Broadway, whose arrangements of dancers into jaw-dropping visual extravaganzas undoubtedly stunned many a first-nighter, Mr. Berkeley a.k.a. "Buzz," began expanding the scope, flamboyance and technical demands of said routines and adapting them to the promising medium of movies, starting with a series of musicals produced by Samuel Goldwyn and starring comedian Eddie Cantor.

Describing the cinematic universe of Busby Berkeley is tantamount to writing about another fellow of expansive imagination, Warner Brothers and MGM cartoon-meister Tex Avery (note: author Joe Adamson did this, brilliantly) and finding oneself mired in such Captain Obvious observations as "Tex liked insanely ridiculous sight gags, pushing even cartoon extremes, faster than both a 1918 Henry Lehrman comedy and the speed of light." Yes, explaining the cosmos and Cosmo Topper are easier tasks than describing Busby Berkeley production numbers and the psychedelic world of the imagination!

Are there words that adequately describe the world of dreams and swirling geometric patterns created by dramatic sets and color-coordinated chorines, all arranged as compositional elements in light and shadow, throughout the epic Busby Berkeley production numbers? No, although the effect on the moviegoer, in 1933 and 2018, especially seen in big screen glory, is quite visceral and stunning. What does it all mean? Don't ask - just enjoy the roller-coaster ride, as audiences hurting from the effects of The Great Depression and having both a temporary escape and a wonderful time at the movies did.

No doubt André Breton and Salvador Dali didn't agree on much, but may well have welcomed a camera track through the spread legs of showgirls, ending at the eternally smiling faces of Toby Wing and Dick Powell, as a peculiarly American spin on the dadaist/surrealist artistic statement.

All this brings us to today's Topic Du Jour, that favorite of banana grower sales conventions 'round the world, The Lady With The Tutti-frutti Hat production number from The Gang's All Here.

Directed by Berkeley and produced by William LeBaron (known for his work for RKO and Paramount, including W.C. Fields, Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges comedies), The Gang's All Here would turn out to be the choreographer's last big screen spectacular before a five year hiatus from motion pictures.

In addition to the earnest, hard-working showgirls holding up giant bananas in The Lady With The Tutti-frutti Hat, The Gang's All Here is chock-full of elaborate production numbers that are very imaginative, wild and ambitious, in some ways 1943-style throwbacks to the extravagant extravaganzas designed for 42nd Street, Gold Diggers Of 1933, Footlight Parade and Dames.

In glorious Technicolor as opposed to the black-and-white milieu of the Goldwyn and Warner Brothers musicals, again, nothing says dada and surrealism, Hollywood-style, quite like a spinning, undulating, pulsating kaleidoscope from Berkeley's wondrously way-out imagination. While those brilliant and mind-numbing Berkeley masterpieces from the depths of The Great Depression can be more reminiscent of Fritz Lang or G.W. Pabst netherworlds than the jaunty world of musicals, this 1943 offering is far sunnier: bright-bright-bright and color-saturated, in stark contrast to the gritty Busby Berkeley pre-Code universe.

This Alice Faye vehicle, loaded with international music stars and top character actors, is big and brassy, following other Fox hit musicals (Down Argentine Way) and much in-tune with the switch from 1930's B&W musical - whether gritty Warner Brothers "Gold Diggers" flick featuring Joan Blondell or glitzy MGM tap-fest starring Eleanor Powell - to the 1940's Technicolor extravaganza.

At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, when we say "read the suspect his Miranda rights", that could be a reference to Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda, but is more likely to be about Carmen Miranda, mainstay of 1940's movie musicals and legendary entertainer.

At the center of The Lady With The Tutti-frutti Hat production number: Busby's signature choreography and the super megawatt "personality plus" of the one, the only Carmen Miranda (1909-1955), yet another great who left us too soon.

Proof that the high-spirited and fruit-filled production numbers, not just in The Gang's All Here but its box-office hit predecessors, Down Argentine Way, That Night In Rio, Week-end In Havana and Springtime In The Rockies were terrific for firebrand Carmen Miranda's career; the fact that the Brazilian entertainer and recording artist was subsequently caricatured, singing in Portuguese, in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Slick Hare. Yes, Friz Freleng and his crew of ace animators at Warner Bros. paid the ultimate tribute!

Here, without further adieu, not the last Busby Berkeley movie musical production number, but, with the other Technicolor visionary visual spectaculars in The Gang's All Here, arguably the last mindbogglingly larger-than-life, audacious and delirious ones until the 1952 Esther Williams vehicle Million Dollar Mermaid.

The numbers other than The Lady With The Tutti-frutti Hat in The Gang's All Here, including the opener, Brazil, express that distinctive Busby Berkeley style and unfettered imagination in full flight. . . while also positively seething with produce.

The rest of The Gang's All Here, a wondrous hodgepodge if there ever was one, notable for the sheer number of 20th century pop culture and classic film touchstones on hand, is a treat for those who love movies and music of the era. There's Benny Goodman (singing, no less)!

Carmen and her "Banda Da Lua" orchestra! The croaking frog gravel voice that could only emanate from Eugene Pallette! Perennial favorites of this blog Charlotte Greenwood and Edward Everett Horton!

And when it comes to the production numbers in The Gang's All Here, that certain mad genius was definitely not adjusted for patriotic wartime tastes, toned down and cleaned up as it had been in the equally elaborate, extremely entertaining and downright spunky (yet a tad sanitized in the patented MGM wholesomeness) Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland musicals, but given free rein. The finale in particular is a lulu, including the singing disembodied heads of the cast members!

The spectacular production numbers in The Gang's All Here, as radiantly colorful as a George Pal Puppetoon, create, like the best of animation, a certain delirious, glorious, memorable and downright hallucinogenic wonderment on the big screen.

Thanks again, Buzz, for creating your own universe on celluloid, Buzz - and I hope you left your brain to the Smithsonian Institute!

And, last but not least, thanks to Hometowns to Hollywood for hosting The Busby Berkeley Blogathon.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Beginning Tomorrow: Noir City 16 - Classy As and Trashy Bs!

In need of heaping helpings of larceny, the post-WWII urban jungle, cigarette-burned fingers, furtive guys and femme fatales - both on the run - and the chiaroscuro shadow world of Greg Toland style black and white cinematography? Then make your way to San Francisco's legendary Castro Theatre, starting tomorrow night.

The Noir City Film Festival is back for a NOT Sweet 16, with the 2018 theme of Classy As and Trashy Bs. This makes sense, as the hard-boiled genre runs the gamut from the big budgets of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to the nonexistent budgets of Monogram and PRC.

Noir City 2018 Credits cut 2 from Serena Bramble on Vimeo.

From the official Noir City press release:
NOIR CITY returns to its home at the historic Castro Theatre January 26–February 4 for its 16th edition. "Film Noir from A to B" takes audiences back in time with a program of 12 genuine "A" and "B" double bills, spanning the breadth of the original film noir era, 1941 to 1953. The festival presents 24 classic noirs as they were experienced on their original release, pairing a top-tier studio "A" with a shorter, low- budget second feature, or "B" film. All but one of the films will be presented in glorious 35mm.

The FNF's latest restoration will also receive its world "re-premiere" on Saturday night, February 3—The Man Who Cheated Himself, an independently made noir thriller from 1950 shot on location in San Francisco. Thanks to the generosity of NOIR CITY patrons and FNF donors, the Foundation was able to fully fund the restoration of this film. A pair of FNF- funded 35mm preservations will screen together that afternoon as well, Southside 1-1000 and The Underworld Story.

For more info, check out the Film Noir Foundation, Noir City and Castro Theatre websites.

Friday, January 19, 2018

New On DVD: Pre-Code Gems by Silent Comedy Great Charley Chase

"The 18 short comedies from 1930-31 are a sheer delight, each a perfect showcase for Charley's brilliant comic timing and breezy personality. An added bonus are the appearances in these films of Charley's frequent screen partner, the wonderful Thelma Todd. The icing on the cake are the amiable commentaries provided by Richard Roberts, one of the leading comedy film historians and an authority on Charley Chase's life and career. Roberts' relaxed style brings a refreshing personal touch; it's more like chatting with an old friend who's freely sharing what he knows, and that's always a good thing. I can't recommend this set highly enough, and hope many more people will discover the great Charley Chase in these hilarious films. May there be a Volume Two, and many more to come!" -- Edward Watz (noted Author and Film Historian)

The classic movie and comedy aficionados who write this blog are thrilled and delighted to hear about the release of this 2-DVD collection of early 1930's films starring the director/writer/comedian Charles Parrott a.k.a. Charley Chase (1893-1940).

New Blu-ray/DVD collections of Charley Chase, one of the most popular comedy stars in both the silent and sound eras, but neglected for decades, are most welcome!

We love the silent 2-reelers Charley and Leo McCarey collaborated on in the silent era and also love his pre-code talkies, 18 of which will be on this 2-DVD set.

Chase talkie shorts produced by the Hal Roach Studio have never been collected into a comprehensive collection before and this set includes some of the funniest and most delightful of all pre-code films made in the early 1930's.

Many of Charley's best films were made with the vivacious actress and comedienne Thelma Todd. They were the equivalent of a comedy team in their many appearances together in 1929-1931.

See Charley co-star with the wonderful Thelma in two of their best films, The Pip From Pittsburg and Looser Than Loose!

See Charley sing! See Charley annoy everyone on a golf course by just wanting to be liked in All Teed Up!

See Charley do a "wrestling women" routine 50 years before Andy Kaufman in the hysterically funny Thundering Tenors!

See Charley anticipate screwball comedy and the classic film humor his friend and collaborator Leo McCarey would later create with that unique combo of dashing leading men and brilliant light comedian, Cary Grant (seen here with Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth).

Charley Chase: At Hal Roach: The Talkies Volume One 1930-31 can be ordered now and is available exclusively on Amazon.

We're big fans of the inventive, hilarious Charley Chase at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog and look forward to this release, which can be ordered here.

The lineup of films on Charley Chase: At Hal Roach: The Talkies Volume One 1930-31 is as follows:

The Real McCoy
Whispering Whoopee
All Teed Up
Fifty Million Husbands
Fast Work
Girl Shock
Dollar Dizzy
La Señorita de Chicago (Spanish version of "The Pip from Pittsburg")
Looser Than Loose
High C's
Thundering Tenors
The Pip from Pittsburg
Rough Seas
One of the Smiths
The Panic Is On
Skip the Maloo!
What a Bozo!
The Hasty Marriage

We tip our brown derbies respectfully to Kit Parker and Richard Roberts, the masterminds behind this set for , and also to the source of the links and screen captures in today's post, Dave Lord Heath, who has done top-notch work for years on his Another Nice Mess: The Films Of Laurel & Hardy website. At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog we consider Dave Lord Heath's website, along with the work of film historians Randy Skredtvedt and Richard Bann, the last word on the Hal Roach Studios.

We send readers to Dave Lord Heath's website because the generally reliable Turner Classic Movies database frequently offers nothing beyond a title, release date, director and cast on the Charley Chase comedy shorts, while Wikipedia entries can vary and imdb too often has factual errors and glaring omissions.

In the silent film comedy pantheon, Charlie Chaplin was the most elegant, Buster Keaton the most brilliant, Harry Langdon the most original, Harold Lloyd the greatest at presenting sight gag humor within a winning Douglas Fairbanks style action/adventure storyline, Madcap Mabel Normand the prettiest/spunkiest/brightest and Lloyd Hamilton the quirkiest, but Mr. Chase gets bigger, louder belly laughs from this blogger than all of them.

If enough comedy fans and classic film aficionados purchase this set, it will be possible to look forward to a Volume 2. For more info, go to The Sprocket Vault website and also check out the Sprocket Vault Classic Films Facebook page.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Happy 126th Birthday, Hal Roach!

We're a year too late to wish comedy-meister and movie legend Hal Roach (January 14, 1892 - November 2, 1992) a happy 125th birthday, so we will wish Hal a Happy Birthday on his 126th!

Mr. Roach, who began working in films as an extra in 1912, was still making personal appearances AFTER he hit 100 years of age!

Fittingly, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is presenting its monthly L&H/Our Gang matinee on Mr. Roach's natal anniversary, today!

The Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee program is The Sounds of Silents: the transition to talkies. The lineup includes L&H in Unaccustomed as We Are and They Go Boom, plus Our Gang in Boxing Gloves and Small Talk. Showtime is at 4PM Pacific Standard Time.

Several of the comedians and comediennes who consistently get the biggest, loudest, longest belly laughs from this blogger starred in films produced by the Hal Roach Studio, a.k.a. The Lot Of Fun. Even the much-maligned Harry Langdon early talkies by Roach will predictably send this film buff into unstoppable giggles, chortles, howls and guffaws.

All-time favorite films include such hilarious comedy shorts as Laurel & Hardy in From Soup to Nuts, Liberty, Two Tars, Big Business and Helpmates; Charley Chase in His Wooden Wedding, Mighty Like A Moose, Limousine Love, The Pip From Pittsburg and Mr. Bride; Max Davidson in Pass The Gravy and such classic Harold Lloyd features such as Why Worry and Safety Last!.

All were produced by Hal Roach.

In addition, among the most-read entries on this blog were two about the Our Gang comedies, produced by Hal Roach Studios from 1922 to 1938.

So we tip our brown derbies respectfully to Hal, Stan & Babe and all the others who made audiences laugh making and starring in movies produced by The Lot Of Fun.

Thanks for the laughs, Mr. Roach - and let's finish this post with some hilarious films guaranteed to provoke plenty of belly laughs!