Monday, December 24, 2012

"Red Shoes" Combines Dance, Romance

One of the recognized all-time great movies, “The Red Shoes,” combines ballet, intrigue and romance.  A 35 mm print of this 1948 classic, restored by UCLA, is being shown at the Trylon micro-theater in Minneapolis.  This is reminiscent of the store front theater on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in the 60s that showed W.C. Fields and Marx Bros. movies long before the advent of VCRs and DVDs.  Historic films get the big screen showing at the Trylon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

“Jezebel” Movie Not Ms. Goddard’s Best Effort

Sunday school teachers probably need not rush out to buy DVDs of the low-budget 1953 biblical movie “The Sins of Jezebel” with an aging Paulette Goddard as Jezy and muscular George Nader as her lover.  Filmed on a shoestring by the poverty row Lippert Studio, this confusing yarn features opening and closing narratives by a professorial type who failed to enlighten this viewer.
I knew I was in good hands when the opening credits listed Sigmund Neufield as the producer who was famous at poverty row studio PRC for low budget  horse operas. 
Comedian Joe Besser, a later day Stooge, plays Nader’s sidekick.  Besser was also know as Stinky, Lou Costello’s sissy nemesis on the ‘50s Abbott and Costello half-hour syndicated TV show.  Besser was the uncle of Mrs. Prell in Spokane who I knew as a kid because her husband gave our Sunday school class a tour of the KGA (ABC) radio studios where he worked .
From what I concluded, Queen Jezebel was involved in extra marital hanky panky with the handsome army captain played by Nader and also plotted to have Nabob stoned to death.  But she may have been decent to her aged mother.  Who knows?  Others more schooled in ancient history may want to fill in the blanks.
This mess may have been filmed at the Corrigan Ranch and a Hollywood sound stage. 
Lippert Studios also made “Wild on the Beach” with Sonny and Cher and they managed to cheapen what was then a cheap genre, the beach movie.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mamie Headlines 1960 College Spoof

Bypassing the recommended search committee protocol, a small college run by a bunch of zanies mistakenly hires a stripper named Tassles to head up its science department in the amusing 1960 Allied Artists Comedy “Sex Kittens Go to College”
Mamie Van Doren in her finest comedic role plays the erstwhile academic Dr. West  who demonstrates Einstein’s Theory of Relativity using a couple of pistols in a lecture that disturbs both faculty and students alike.
Producer, director and writer Albert Zugsmith has a filed day trampling on the sanctity of higher education which no doubt will delight  some viewers.  Country rocker Conway Twitty provides a musical tribute to Mamie who sings and dances,  Jackie Coogan from the Adams Family does a W.C. Fields imitation as the college benefactor Admiral McFortune.
The last reel of the film dithers into madness with strippers and Louis Nye in a fire engine chase scene that bears no relation to the slim plot.
The manufacturer of the MOD DVD is Desert Island Classics whose video transfer techniques leave a lot to be desired.  This is a movie everyone knows but have never seen.  Now I have it and am I better f or it?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"A Royal Affair" Finds Contemporary Issues

The age old struggle between enlightened progressives and religious reactionaries is dramatized in the new Danish film, “A Royal Affair,” about the King Christian VII, his physician and his young Queen Caroline in 1760.  The villains in this yarn are the prime minister Guldberg and the Dowager Queen, who plan a palace coup. The physician is the champion of the poor and downtrodden and steers the king to a progressive path, abolishing slavery.  The contemporary equivalent of the Dowager Queen and Guldberg would be McCain and Boehner. Ambassador Susan Rice would be the Queen.  Get caught up on history and see this movie now playing at the newly remodeled Uptown which is gorgeous with leather reclining seats and a much more.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Nazi Lifestyles, Two Film Noir

A Jewish German Israeli women who survived the Holocaust dies and leaves puzzling evidence that reveals an association with a high ranking Nazi official who hired the notorious Adolph Eichman.  The woman is a hoarder and left letters, photos and newspaper articles that reveal a  relationship with the German gentile family that continued after the war.
In the Israeli documentary “The Flat,” her grandson, Arnon Goldfinger, who produced and narrated the film, seeks to learn more about his grandparents lives in Germany and in Israel.  A generational conflict develops where Arnon is more determined to learn the truth while his mother is a reluctant participant and very tentative about finding the grave of her grandfather in the cemetery in Germany.
An expert is sought out to hypothesize on how two very different families of the intelligentsia established a lasting friendship despite the Holocaust, which Arnon cannot accept.  See this documentary playing now at the Edina Theater.

Somewhat related is the 1940 MGM all-star epic “Mortal Storm” where a family in Germany is torn asunder by the Aryan/  question.  James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan defend tolerance while Robert Young and Dan Dailey poetry fervent Nazi characters.
Two excellent film noir from the early 50s are on one disk, “Where Danger Lives” and “Tension,” from RKO and MGM respectively.  You would think that Robert Mitchum would have had enough of the crazy ladies but he’s back with Faith Domergue (Howard Hughes protégé) as the femme fatale in WDL.  Likewise, Audrey Totter is quite fetching in “Tension” and I understand why Hughes hired her for the Robert Ryan film noir about the boxer.  WDL is comparable to “Detour” and “DOA.”  Listen to some of the film critics commentary.  Audrey  Totter recalls that Marie Windsor said the movies are now “Film  noir” but  those who worked in them knew them as B movies.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sunny Fall Days Bring Idaho Memories

I am having fall recollections.  Lake Pend Oreille (pond oray) in Northern Idaho about this time of year was when I went water skiing  with my high school buddy Roger Springer.  It was sunny but the water was cold because Pend Oreille is a huge lake.  I didn’t embarrass myself on the skis because I wanted to impress Roger and his folks.  In our little group, Roger was the only one with a car of his own --a ‘50 Chevy coupe and he would take us to the drive-ins (Rutherford XXX) and Moran Prairie where we would watch the DJ spin records at KNEW.   Jack Malone in recent years told me that Roger played honky tonk piano and I still am a fan of that music with an LP that I have from The Crescent by Thumbs Tubby.
About 10 years later in about mid-October, also at an Idaho lake, I went  fishing with my new landlords, the Martins, at Lucky Peak Reservoir where it was cold and we didn’t catch any fish.  A month later the Martins decided to get out of the boarding house business and I moved down the street with Mrs. Cook & Co.
Also, in late fall in Idaho I went hunting with the Statesman Outdoor Editor Ken Burrows.  Ken was a gentleman hunter and with a loaded gun he made me nervous.  We ventured into the wild in his 60s Rambler Classic.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"The President's Daughter" Details '20s Scandal

Before the Gov. Terminator-maid scandal, there was the equally infamous and Republican senator/president Warren G. Harding and the secretary/poet Nan Britton, a small town girl who soon learned the ways of men during a six-year affair. 
Not a pretty story it is either as documented in her 1927 book, “The President’s Daughter” with photos of their love child Elizabeth Ann who was born in 1919 to Britton who assumed the name “Mrs. Edmund Christian,” although the whereabouts of the fictitious Mr. Christian were unknown.  What follows is Ms. Britton’s account of events, which the Harding family claimed were hard to prove:
Their affair was awash in sloppy endearments where the Prez was called “sweetheart” and Nan was “dearie” which I find amusing.
Harding floated several schemes to distance himself from ensuing events including his suggestion of an abortion, shuffling the little bundle of joy off to the Catholic Home and finally a palatable solution, providing about $400 a month to Nan’s sister and brother in law enabling  them to adopt little Elizabeth.  Nan was not without her resources and hired an attorney to make sure that the adoption papers named her as the child’s legal guardian.
The book is poorly organized so there is no summary of exactly what Nan got financially out of her sweetheart but apparently she faired well.  An unknown man delivered $800 in cash to her and on another occasion she received three $500 bills which wasn’t chump change in the early 1900s.  Nevertheless, she was strapped for cash.
Harding got Nan jobs as a secretary at U.S. Steel, the GOP during the convention where he was nominated president and at a university where she later enrolled as a student.  Also, she  traveled to Europe in the 1920s and it’s safe to assume that Harding gave her money for that because he feared exposure although he said he was in debt $50,000 at the time.  Harding told Nan that after Mrs. Harding, who was sickly,  died he would adopt little Elizabeth although he never said anything about marrying Nan.
Britton also makes reference to gossip circulating about Harding’s affair with Mrs. Arnold and readers would be well advised to get “Florence Harding” by Carl S. Anthony to learn more about the amorous president’s further adventures.  Ms. Britton wasn’t the only one left with a love child by Harding.
Nan was advised and helped by Tim Slade who was Secret Service and driver to the President, so obviously he could substantiate her story.  After Harding’s passing from a “broken heart,” Slade suggested that Nan petition the Harding family to establish a $50,000 trust fund for Elizabeth Ann but she was denied any claims to the Harding estate.
In her closing remarks, Britton quotes from Harding’s book, “Our Common Country”:  “It will not be the America we love that neglects the American mother and the American child.”   Harding did his bit to promote motherhood.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"The Candidate," politically relevant film

Politically progressive and handsome is the challenger for the Senate seat that Robert Redford portrays in the award winning 1972 movie “The Candidate,” which is relevant today as it was 40 years ago.  His thoughts on poverty, unemployment, housing and health care will resonate with many progressive voters today.  How this slipped buy me all these years is puzzling.  The Redford character is sucked into the spinning vortex of contemporary politics putting him at odds with his campaign managers and his wife who do not share his vision or values.  Depression and disorientation result as the movie unravels.  Father and son enjoy Hamm’s beer, from St. Paul, land of sky blue waters, in one scene.  Don Porter, last seen as Ann Southern’s boss in “Private Secretary” and as Sally Fields dad in “Gidget,” is his challenger.  This is the most riveting two hours of entertainment you are likely to find from Netflix who send plastic disks in the mail in paper wrappers to be chewed up in the Post Office equipment.  Go Netflix!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fifties Sci-fi Movie Relevant Today

A space alien turns out the lights worldwide to get the attention of politicians to stop nuclear madness and not blow up the universe.  I love the message in this ‘50s sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” with Michael Rennie, Billy Gray and Patricia Neal form  TCF.  Like “The Man from Planet X,” aliens are abused, counter productive to our Minnesota Tourism Office’s fine efforts. Heroic efforts of the owner of the Heights Theater resulted in the showing last night of a 35 mm print of this film which is remarkable in the move to digital only.  The Heights will be showing the William Castle horror movie “The Tingler” which may not be available elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Johnny Downs Featured in Two Films

In a scathing commentary on Hollywood, the Asian actor Philip Ahn confesses that he can make more money as a valet rather than an actor if he speaks pidgin rather than English.  This is part of a 1937 musical, “Something to Sing About,”  from poverty row studio Grand National featuring James Cagney who was involved in a stink with Warner Bros. at the time. The attempts of the major studios to use and abuse the talent is center stage in this provocative gem.  Go to for more.

In another outrageous Hollywood stereotype, Franklin Pangborn is an over the top pansy who is mimicked by a radio studio employee in “High Hat” from Imperial Pictures.  Pangborn portrays a fussy opera singer in this ‘30s musical.

One of the better PRC horror movies from the 40s is “Mad Monster” with George Zucco as at the disgruntled college professor seeing revenge on his colleagues by creating a wolfman monster played by Glenn Strange.  Johnny Downs is the handsome hero newspaper reporter who saves the damsel in distress Anne Nagel in the last reel.  Lots of fun for your Halloween viewing.

Martha Tilton headlines PRC’s 1944 musical “Swing Hostess” where she plays the equivalent of a disk jockey.  Tlilton, a band singer of the ‘40s, did a live show at NBC in Burbank in the 60s with singer Morton Downey while I worked at KNBC/NBC news in ‘1963-64 as an editorial assist ant.

Johnny Downs is hilarious in drag as a college boy in “All American Co-ed” from Hal Roach United Artists in 1941.  It’s a brisk, well written yarn that must have inspired Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” years lat

Friday, September 07, 2012

"Claudia" Movie Features Dorothy McGuire

Many young married woman including my mom during the war probably identified with the free spirit Claudia featured in books, movies and a play.  The 1943 Fox movie of the same name recently became available for the first time on DVD and may never have been seen on TV before.

Dorothy McGuire is outstanding as the vivacious, rambunctious Claudia.  Women’s movies seemed a lot more enticing in the 40s then they are now with characters that you knew.  “Claudia,” the movie, is much better than the book, thanks to McGuire and proceeds like a 40s radio soap opera from one event to the next.  There is an annoying bit about David misplacing his pipe cleaner and I can picture that little tool in my head because my dad had one.

Robert Young of “Father Knows Best” is David and not really the attractive character that Rose Franken wrote about in the book.  Cary Grant was the studio's first choice for David but was otherwise engaged.  Reginald Gardner is miscast as the visiting writer who steals a kiss from Claudia.  Alfred Newman’s background music is a bit overpowering in spots.  Otherwise, this is worth a view from Fox Archives.

A more contemporary telling of a similar story is the 60s “Barefoot in the Park” with Jane Fonda in a very “Claudia” kind of role.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

"Look In Any Window" Features Paul Anka

“Look in Any Window” is a slow moving 1961 Allied Artists movie about suburban morality featuring teen idol Paul Anka, Ruth Roman, Jack Cassidy and Gigi Perreau.  The 40 minute interview on the DVD with a the director, a giggling, mumbling William Alland, is worthwhile. 

Alland was the producer of successful scifi horror movies at Universal-International in the 50s including “It Came From Outer Space.”  Before that he was a behind the scenes guy for Orson Welles on “Citizen Kane” at RKO and radio dramas.

Anka’s agent didn’t want him to make “Look in Any Window” but it went ahead and was completed in seven days.  Anka sings the title song.

The DVD includes an interview with Alland’s second wife Helen about his role as a “friendly” witness for the House Un-American Activities Committee.  In fact, Helen maintains that Alland was too friendly of a witness resulting in the end of their marriage and the family was shunned by the community.

Not much money was spent on wardrobe for “Look” with Anka and Roman in swim suits through much of the movie.   The Anka character jumps from rooftops in a mask which one suspects involved a stunt double.   The irony of Alland's career is that he started with “Citizen Kane” and ended with a  teen drive-in drama.  Anka recnetly appeared in the remake of "Shake Rattle and Rock," which originally was an American-International drive-in effort.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Footnote and Hercules Reviewed Here

A seriously dysfunctional Jewish family with academic credentials gets into a big stink over Talmud research in the 2011 film “Footnote” from Israel.  The angry dad in this movie views his son as a rival Talmud expert.  The U.S. version would feature father-son bond traders or pro-wrestlers.

With U.S. film choices meager at best, I needed to turn to foreign fare this week including “Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon” which kind of relates to “Footnote” in that the Talmud has Babylon references.  The movie stars muscle man Rock Stevens who is actually Peter Lupus, featured on the “Mission Impossible” TV show.  Here he is the strong man who frees the beautiful nymph slaves from the evil Babylon clutches.  Being an Italian movie from the 60s the dubbing into English is sloppy (dialogue is heard but the lips don’t move).  It is not known if Rock/Peter made any other movies where bulging biceps were a requisite.  One can only hope.  American International Pictures takes credit/blame for this Hercules.i

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Where’s The Bathroom Dick Daring?

Guided by pure greed,  the talented writer Merle Miller in the 1960s thrust himself into the network television meat grinder with gay abandon.  That train wreck is chronicled in his 1964 book “Only You Dick Daring”  which I read in 1965 on the recommendation of Jim McLaughlin when we both were working the copy desk at the Idaho Evening Statesman.  Thank you Jim..

The show that Miller researched and marketed to devious United Artist and CBS executives was called “Calhoun” -- an hour-long drama featuring former child star Jackie Cooper as a county extension agent.  A pilot may have been filmed but the show was DOA.

The cast of evil characters in the drama about the drama is difficult to keep straight but Skippy Jim James Aubrey, CBS president at the time, was the chief gate keeper of American television cultural enhancement.  The premise that CBS would launch a show dealing with social justice and other challenging issues in the age of the Beverly Hillbillies is side splitting funny. 

Having worked eight years in the Agricultural Extension Service, I can testify that it’s all about brucellosis, creep feeding pigs and bloated cows for the agricultural agent.  As for the home economist, it’s how to avoid botulism while canning beans.  Unless the town gets wiped out by poisonous beans every week, I don’t see how you can sustain a series about an extension agent.  But Miller persevered in the face of insurmountable odds.

The jargonized dialogue of the TV executives as reported by Miller is hilarious and sounds like the script of the adults in “The Graduate.”  At one meeting, a United Artist executive observes:  “We’ve got to tell the audience where the bathroom is.”  Behind his back, the executives observed that Miller was having a nervous breakdown and Cooper may have been hiring other writers for the ill-fated show while professing his love of Miller’s script with several “God bless yous.” 

Miller got precious little money for his efforts except his well kept diary allowed him to write a hilarious book that no doubt was a best seller.  Unrelated in this volume are chapters on Miller returning to Iowa for his high school reunion and his writing a script for the TV movie “The American” about Ira Hayes, the Marine who may or may not have raised the flag at Iwo Jima in World War II.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Trouble in River City

MASON CITY, IOWA -- Anvil and trombone salesmen have left River City.  Marion no longer minds the books at the library and cute little Winthrop is a bald movie director now. 

But life goes on in Mason City where at the turn of the century it was such a sweet slice of Americana with lovable Midwest yokels that it inspired Meredith Wilson's "Music Man"  which gave us the song "You Ought to Give Ioway a Try.”

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright  (FLW) gave Iowa a try and may have struck a discordant note by designing an avant garde building for the city in 1910.  A few years later the locals slapped a plastic sign, “European Hotel,” on the front obscuring Wright’s good intentions.

The structure was designed in the shape of a strong box to house a hotel, bank and law office.  All hell broke loose  soon with the Great Depression.  The bank failed, the lawyers moved and the hotel faltered.  In the '30s, mayhem and anarchy American style were the new tradition .  Long before Mr. Jamie Dimon became banking’s poster boy, one sexy Mr. John Dillinger and his buddy Baby Face Nelson were the country’s recognized banking mavens. 

Heavily armed, Dillinger’s gang arrived in 1936 to make an unauthorized withdrawal from the First National Bank totaling $52,000, across the street from the FLW building.  Lawlessness was in the air and River City was no exception.

In the ‘30s  Iowa gave the FLW Prairie School architecture building an ill advised devastating remodel, knocking huge holes in walls for store front windows and destroying the arch shaped bank vault wall.  No one could recognize this eyesore as the great man’s vision. The bank and hotel were gone so it housed a cigar store, finance company, radio station and a flop house for derelict souls before being abandoned to the pigeons and rodents.  Naturally, this prompted a discussion of leveling the whole mess for a parking lot.

Iowans of stature came to  the rescue of the Wright building in the nick of time by getting state funds and private donations totaling more than $20 million to restore the building to Wright's vision, aided by his sketches.  The exotic boutique Historic Park Inn Hotel was reborn in 2011 and it is part of our architectural heritage. 

Meanwhile, Mason City is now “Music City”  honoring their native Meredith Wilson who is remembered for the “Mom, Apple Pie and Flag Waving” love poem to Midwest America, “The Music Man.”  River City is recreated at Music Man Square with wonderful photos from the Wilson career including the 1962 movie’s premier at Mason City’s Palace Theater.  That theater has been leveled.  You can’t save everything.)  Photos show Wilson’ during his stint on NBC Radio in the early ‘50s on “The Big Show” as Talullah Bankhead’s straight man.  Who can forget that as the love theme, “Till There Was You,”  which rings in my ears.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Skinheads and Indians in Cultural Clashes

There’s more that binds us to other cultures then we realize.  For instance take the plots of “This is England” and “Monsoon Wedding.”  Substitute Yiddish for Hindu and “Monsoon Wedding” becomes “Yonkers Wedding” with similar generational and cultural clashes.  Likewise, substitute Tea Party radicals for angry racist British Skinheads and “This is England” becomes “This is Wisconsin” as the working class struggles with with joblessness, poverty, lack of opportunities and education and  rampant capitalism.  Try this with other movie plots.  It’s fun.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Barney's Version" is Engaging Cinema

For the past month I have been trolling Blockbuster for the title that would knock me on my ass.  I struck the mother load with “Barney’s Version,” a tour de force made for Paul Giamatti as the hapless Canadian television producer of the usual shlock. And how ironic that Dustin Hoffman is cast as his father but then Hoffman got his start in the iconic black comedy “The Graduate.”   So here’s another black comedy based on a a best seller from Mordecai Richler who gave us “The Apprenticeship of Dudey Kravitz” which I must see again.  Most memorable is the manic Jewish wedding scene with the bride Minnie Driver and the dubious groom Giamatti hoisted in the air on chairs which was done in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Depp, Thompson: Compatible, Entertaining

The camaraderie and special relationship that existed between Johnny Depp and the late journalist Hunter S. Thompson is developed in documentaries on the DVD with the movie “Rum Diaries.”
This is a good reason to get the DVD from Netflix if you missed it at the theater.  I was a fan of Thompson’s work before Depp made Gonzo and I attended his lecture in St. Paul at St. Catherine’s University.  I only remember him refreshing himself from a bottle of scotch and showing up late.  I believe that Bill Murray was Thompson in  “Where the Buffalo Roam.”

“Rum Diaries” deals with the dark side of American politics and business and although it took many years to make, I feel it was worth the effort.  Depp is great at fleshing out renegade fringe characters and those that enjoyed “Ed Wood” will find “Rum Diaries” rewarding.  Since it’s filmed on the beaches of San Juan, it will could be a favorite winter movie.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

NASCAR Dudes Target In German Movie

Dudes who avoided seeing “The Vow” will want to have a look at the 2008 German high testosterone movie “Fast Track: No Limits.”  The esteemed Lee Goldberg of Diagnosis Murder and Monk is the writer and producer.  (For more, go to

This is not just your basic fast women, loose cars or babes, boobs and BMWs sidebar to a six pack of Grain Belt and Dominoes pizza.  No, it features some creative photography and street racing of the classic variety.  I am well versed in the genre having recently viewed “Trucking on the Track” with Tommy Kirk and “Fireball 500” with Fabian and Frankie Avalon.  In this contemporary version, BMWs that we associate with dotty suburbanites here are the mean machines of the street. 

Those who hope to see Angela Merkle topless on the streets of Berlin will be disappointed.  The lady has front burner issues with the bank mess in Spain.  Cut her some slack.

For maximum FT enjoyment pair it with Lou Arkoff’s “Jailbreaker” with underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr. reminding us of why our hearts went aflutter a few years back.  In a retread of a 60s American International epic, Sabato plays a James Dean high school greaser bad boy who Shannon Doherty can’t resist.  (She never showed good judgment in the Beverly Hills show as well.)

In a somewhat unrelated discovery, “The Bitch in Apt. 23” actually is wonderfully subversive with Dawson Vanderbeek as a has been teen heart throb doing commercials in Vietnam.  This ABC sitcom is worth another view.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Making Lemons Out of Lemonade

Lemons are life and everyone is a prisoner who suffers tremendous losses in the 2008 award-winning Israeli film “Lemon Tree” about contemporary life on the West Bank.

In the closing scene, the Israeli defense minister stares forlornly into the ugly wall that separates him from his Palestinian neighbor with the contested lemon grove.  “LIfe Behind The Wall” would have been a more appropriate title for this provocative film.  The plot is somewhat similar to that of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” where protagonists are asked to  walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes.

Once the defense minister moved next to the lemon grove, the Palestinian woman whose family owned the grove must have known that nothing would be the same, one could conjecture.  Either you feel a sense of immense helplessness over this mess or you see the movie as a hopeful sign.  See the movie and decide for yourself.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Spirit Lake, Idaho Theater Memories Recalled

It started at the Spirit Lake, Idaho, movie theater in 1947 where the Zarkins and Barers would go while on summer vacation at Sedelmeyers Resort. So I have been carrying around a snapshot in my head of a movie scene where Victor Moore emerges from  underground in a manhole. Those Spirit Lake days were an impressionable time for a lad starting a lifetime as a movie maniac. 
By dumb luck I was reunited with the scene when last night I watched the 1947 Allied Artist movie ‘It Happened on Fifth Avenue” with Gale Storm, Charles Ruggles, Victor Moore and Dan Defore.  Briefly, it’s a sentimental Christmas yarn about a returning GI coping with the housing shortage and a self-absorbed captain of industry and his daughter (Storm) who falls in love with the GI played by Defore.  With high production values and a good script, it is quite enjoyable.
Spirit Lake’s theater was small and with primitive folding chairs or some other unusual seating arrangements.   The theater also featured “Luck of the Irish” with Tyrone Power which we also saw.  I have fond Spirit Lake memories.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Woman in Black: Unusual Choice for Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe makes an agreeable hero in the Gothic ghost horror movie “The Woman in Black” from the Hammer Studios which gained fame in the 60s and 70s with Gothic horror stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. 
Children are the victims in this British film and the lad who plays his son in the movie is in real life his God son.  Problem is he’s as blond as Mamie Van Doren in “Sex Kittens Go to College.”  Radclliffe with the soulful eyes makes this film somewhat enjoyable.  Also it reintroduces the Gothic horror genre to an audience reared on teen slasher horror.  I kind of liked it.  Interesting that 21-year-old Radlcliffe was cast in a mature role after being the Harry Potter boy hero for so many years.  Given the fact that some of the Glee high schoolers are old enough to have kids in high school you would expect Radcliffe to be hanging out at the drive in with the other “kids” in post Potter movie roles.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lewis Book Helps Explain Current Market Scandal

What a timely read:  The best seller by Michael Lewis, “The Big Short:  Inside the Doomsday Machine,” is required reading to understand the current scandal with the missing $2 billion at J. P. Morgan Investment Bank.  Lewis tells the story of hedge fund managers in the early 2000s who went to Securities and Exchange Commission officials with the impending collapse of the lousy bad credit mortgage bond market.  They laid out  the story for the SEC.  The SEC “doesn't dare or bother to” investigate and “the smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear.”  Crooks and stupid people were running the markets and the rating services, S&P and Moodys, were afraid of losing business by asking the right questions.  The AAA bond rating meant nothing.  We know how that turned out.  The book will put you on edge as the current mess unfolds.  So who else has $2 billion unaccounted for?

Friday, May 11, 2012

“Best Hotel,” Republic Pictures and Monogram’s Judy Garland

A lot of gray heads could be seen at the matinee at the Edina Theater for the British/Indian/Dubai film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.  Some of our favorite actors from PBS/BBC , Maggie Smith and Judi Dentsch, star in this charming story that takes British seniors on a journey to India. 

Dev Patel, who was featured in "Slumdog Millionaire", plays the young hotel owner.   So few films focus on seniors that this was like finding an oasis in the Sahara.  The character played by Maggie Smith voices inspirational words to live by related to dealing with disappointment, moving on and being open to change.  Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Colin Covert in the Tribune panned the movie but Chris Hewitt in the Pioneer Press gave it three stars.  Wisely, it was promoted on PBS where it is most likely to find an audience. Elsewhere . . .

Gale Storm, best known for the inane 50s sitcom “My Little Margie”, was a talented singer and comedienne and was Monogram Pictures' Judy Garland in the ‘40s.  For her story, read “I ain’t down yet: autobiography of Gale Storm”.  Details are lacking about working at Monogram and Allied Artists except for her dislike of Roy Del Ruth but she made her best best movie with him, “It Happened on 5th Avenue” .   Some of her other Monogram screen credits include “Swing Parade of 1946” with Phil Regan, “Let’s Go Collegiate” with Frankie Darro and “Revenge of the Zombies” with John Carradine which is marvelously bad.  (Veda Ann Borg steals the movie as the walking dead).

Storm also made a horse opera at Republic Pictures which is the focus of a scholarly book,  “Republic Studios:  Between Poverty Row and the Majors” by Richard M. Hurst.  Prominent Republic historian Jack Mathis, who is decreased, had an extensive film collection extensive which includes “Captain America” serial that’s not available for purchase.  Mathis' collection is at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  Dick Purcell stared in Captain America and died of heart attack shortly thereafter doing his own stunts.  Dick is remembered as the handsome lead in “King of the Zombies” at Monogram.  Hopefully some day the Captain America serials will be available on DVD.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Outer Space Travel Can Be Hazardous

Frightening similar to the killing in Sanford, Fla., in February of an African American teenager is the plot of the 1951 independent film, “The Man from Planet X”.  Did director Edgar Ulmer plan a parable on race relations in 1951?  Who knows but this gem from United Artists is quite provocative with the earthlings taking the attitude, “If it doesn’t look like me, destroy it.”  One of the characters in the film observes:  Too bad we never got to know him.  He may have been a nice person.  That pretty much sums it up. 

 So before he became famous film director Peer Bogdanovich cobbled together a Soviet sci-fi space adventure with Mamie VanDoren and similar babes in clam shell bras and skin tight pants on a California beach.  The result is the amusingly bad 1969 movie “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women”.  Dubbed dialogue allows for some amusing banter amongst the Soviet cosmonauts visiting a planet inhabited by the voluptuous ladies.  “If you don’t like it here why don’t you get on a bus and go home?  I would if I could find one,” is the response.

In Allied Artists’ campy 1958 hit “Queen of Outer Space” the stateside astronauts are smitten by the beautiful ladies who are sole inhabitants of Venus.   Zsa Zsa Gabor plays a “scientist” who is smartly attired.  In fact Venus ladies are ready to party in revealing cocktail dresses except for the evil “queen” who is horribly disfigured.  Costuming must have been inspired by Vegas musical reviews.   The male lead is Eric Fleming from “Rawhide” and he catches the Zsa Zsa roving eye.  Painfully atrocious acting.  Edward Bernds, a mainstay of cheesy movies, directed this mess which was probably filmed at the Allied Artists sound stage.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Broadcast Hall of Fame's Watson Feted

Hugs were exchanged and stories told Sunday in St. Paul Forepaugh’s at retired KUOM Radio Manager Marion Watson’s 90th birthday party and the reunion of the KUOM staff. Many wonderful friends from my year at KUOM (1981) were on hand including Andy, Carol, Vicki, Betty, Stuart and more. It was like 30 years hadn’t passed and we were in Rarig Center on the university campus. Connie Goldman approached me and I know that I have a connection to Connie and the wheels started turning in my head, finally mentioning my ex-wife’s Aunt Gae who is Connie’s cousin. So we made that connection and I was good to see Connie who was prominent at KUOM and NPR where she did a series on the pop psychology of Northern California, possibly in the 60s or 70s. And then I had a flash that I should know Andy Marlowe’s mom and so I asked his wife, Phyllis, about her. Yes, she worked as a secretary for 4-H at the same time I was an information officer on the campus doing public relations for 4-H. So of course I knew Eleanor Marlowe. Charles Brin was there who still can be heard on KFAI Radio and had a bit part in the Coen Brothers’ film “A Serious Man.” He and I are members of the same congregation. Curt Oliver hadn’t changed much and I reminded him of some of his witticisms. Steve Davis was also quite imposing and he still has that deep baritone that served him well as he spun classical music. The event concluded with Betty's homemade cakes, which were an office tradition on birthdays, Flashes flashed for group shots. Marion is rightfully concerned about the KUOM legacy and the many priceless tapes that are in University Archives care. Can the archives be trusted with this priceless treasure? Apart from my KUOM job, as a student I had transcribed World War Two news broadcast electrical transcriptions to tape from KSTP Radio in about 1970 so I volunteered to lend my support to efforts to chronicle the progress of this archive project. There never will be another reunion like this, certainly not at the Grain Exchange and the Medical Foundation, which were dramas that didn’t end well for me in the 80s. Then again if the Idaho Statesman wants to gather old hands together, I would welcome it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

“Macabre”, “Three Stooges”, “Moneyball”

“Macabre” is a low budget Allied Artist horror movie that I hadn’t seen in more than 50 years at the art deco Spokane Fox Theater so when it was reissued by Warners this month I bought it in a nano second. William Castle directs this black and white graveyard chiller with D list actors, a fog machine and skeletons cued by creepy music. AA insured our lives for $1,000 if we died of fright in the theater during the movie. (Chocking on popcorn or falling asleep from boredom didn’t count).

It was good to get in touch with my boyhood obsession for scary movies after avoiding them in my early childhood (too many nightmares). I can’t say that “Macabre” was all that scary compared to ”Psycho” but then I won’t spoil the plot.

Juvenile slapstick humor brought me to the multiplex here Friday night for a showing of the new “Three Stooges” movie from the Farley Brothers, one of which is quite buff. Anyhoo, my friend Jack and I nearly wet our pants from laughter. There’s nothing like a little eye gouging and a sledge hammer over the head to put you right with the world. Long live the Stooges, saviors of western civilization as we knew it.

Who would have known that the Oakland Athletics had a general manager named Billy Beane (thought he ran a mail order catalog) and who cares? Actually the Brad Pitt film was quite riveting and I don’t know why. I was actually disappointed when they lost to the Twins in the playoffs and no one is chagrin when the Twins win here. So what’s with that?

Watch this space for a review upcoming on “Cabin in the Woods” which should bring back fond memories of summer days at Loon Lake, WA.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


Hollywood gossip monger Sheilah Graham refuses to mention it while jazz singer Mel Torme devotes a paragraph to the teen exploitation drive in movie “Girls’ Town” in his autobiography.

Albert Zugsmith produced several salacious thrillers at MGM, Universal and Allied Artist with Mamie Van Doren topping the bill. Ms. Graham played a sympathetic nun at a girls reformatory in “Girls’ Town” and Torme was a bad boy who dukes it out with singer Paul Anka and the son of film icon Charlie Chaplin. In the scene with Charles Chaplin junior the actor was to slug Torme and actually did, loosening a few of the singer’s front teeth.

If Ms. Graham suffered any indignities or loose teeth we may never know because in all the books written about her and her lover F. Scott Fiitzgerald there are no references to GT. Too bad. Then again Torme makes no reference in his book to Lana Turner with whom he is alleged to have an affair. Discretion is the better part of valor, I guess.

Interesting that by the mid 50s the once distinguished MGM had fallen on such hard times that it was catering to the drive in crowd as was Warner Bros., who distributed the Mamie musical effort “Untamed Youth” as well as "Teenagers from Outer Space" in the 50s.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Strange Radio Titles Come to Mind

Waking streams of consciousness have brought back names of radio and TV shows of the 40s and 50s and I needed to check Wikipedia to see if they were real, including IT PAYS TO BE IGNORANT, LADIES BE SEATED, JUKEBOX JURY AND ISH KABIBBLE.

It Pays to Be Ignorant was on Mutual for Philip Morris, Chrysler and Desoto. The show spoofed popular radio programs like Quiz Kids and Information Please. It obviously was a favorite on the Crosley at home and may have featured a character called “Park Your Carcass” but I need confirmation on that. Or maybe that character was on Fred Allen’s show?

Ladies Be Seated was a stunt game hosted by Minnesota native Johnny Olson and was on NBC in the 40s. I can’t see how this would work on radio.

Jukebox Jury had a short run on ABC TV and was hosted by disk jockey Peter Potter with celebrity actors on the panel. The panel judged newly released songs.

Ish Kabibble was the name of a comedian featured on the radio show Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge. He also appeared in movies starting in 1939. I probably remember the name from a popular song of the day (ish kabibble mit the ya ya). Anyone recognize this?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Life is Cruel and Conflicted at “Cairo Station”

A lonely sexually repressed obsessive newspaper vendor played by director Youssef Chahine longs for the country life and a sultry vixen who sells American Coca Cola to passengers at an urban train station. It’s an existential nightmare that doesn’t end well.

This is the premise for Chahines 1958 Egyptian film triumph “Cairo Station” which is not what you expect in a Middle East film. Chahine must have studied European masters of neo realism of the 1940s to craft a troubling mix of desperation as seen through shadows and light.

The newspaper vendor and women who sell soft drinks to middle class travelers at the depot are central to the drama that pits traditional Muslim beliefs against decadent western capitalism. Workers shed your chains preaches a union organizer who offers hope to those oppressed by their bosses. Women are used and physically abused with sex and sadism an underlying theme.

Against the backdrop of a billboard with a voluptuous woman, men gather on the public square to face Mecca for their daily prayers, not a hospitable setting for the devout. We are not far from pagan Western influences in the depot when we see on the wall a poster advertising the sexy 1953 Hollywood movie “Niagara” with Marilyn Monroe.

Beyond the depot, Chahine offers a glimpse of Cairo’s urban possibilities teaming with hope and poverty with western jazz making us forget we are in the Middle East. (“Cairo Station” is available on DVD with subtitles).

Monday, March 05, 2012

Game On -- Stop the Hate

MINNEAPOLIS -- About 500 people Sunday stood up for dignity and against tyranny and hate Sunday at a meeting in a suburban Minneapolis synagogue to kick off the campaign against the ill-advised constitutional anti-gay marriage amendment.

“My blood boils” said Minneapolis Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman as she recalled the plaintive plea of a toddler who asked if her two moms would go to jail if the amendment passes.

The amendment which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot would further marginalize members of the LGBT community to further the radical agenda of the Republican legislative majority.

Against formidable odds, like the corporate Catholic Church which is sinking a million dollars into the anti-gay campaign, the advocates of dignity and freedom need to convince 160,000 Minnesotans to vote against the amendment. or else don’t vote on the amendment. Gay and lesbian couples with children will have compelling stories to tell those wavering that could tip the balance in November.

The Minnesota Rabbinical Association on Jan. 18 adopted a statement opposing the amendment.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Seeking Edgar Ulmer’s Film Legacy

Movie director Edgar Ulmer from the 30s and 40s was worried about his legacy. Would anyone remember him for “Detour” and “The Black Cat”? Good question. Answer: yes and no, but an international documentary about Ulmer from Kino Video seeks to establish him in the lexicon of innovative directors with testimonials from contemporary directors Joe Dante, John Landis, Roger Corman and Wim Wenders.

Ulmer is a contradiction in that he resisted being ground up in the Hollywood “hash” machine of the major studios and yet he had an unsustainable faith that the “mythic Hollywood” would allow him to establish his legacy as a movie genius. So he chose a path less traveled. Ulmer signed on with poverty row studio PRC (Producers Releasing Corp.) And he said he enjoyed his years at PRC, making movies on a shoestring. Necessity is the mother of invention so with few resources he crafted at least one memorable movie, “Detour”, at PRC. (“The Black Cat” was a loan out to Universal).

Some of his movies dealing with desperate living are available cheap, like at the dollar store. (Two different DVDs that I bought of Miracle Pictures “Monsoon” (“Isle of the Forgotten Sins”) are un-playable. The Kino issue of “Isle” is playable but the soundtrack is distorted. Obviously it was made from a 16mm print but I am happy to have it.

The 1943 “Isle” movie is interesting in that it features a somewhat comical puppet as a deep sea diver searching for sunken gold. John Carradine and Gale Sondergaard spark romantic while Sidney Toler of Charlie Chan fame and handsome Rick Vallin (Ava Gardner’s fiancé in “Ghosts on the Loose” at Monogram) are evil doers. Toler in a swimsuit with sagging titties flopping in the breeze is amusing and not all that sinister. The villains’ shootout in the closing minutes is notable in that not a drop of blood was shed.

Like an earlier Ulmer film, “Moon Over Harlem”, it reveals incidents in the lives of people living on the edge.

So what happened to PRC and Ulmer? The notable director rests in peace at Hollywood Forever cemetery, a short distance from Santa Monica Blvd. and LaBrea Aveniue where once PRC made movies with Lash Larue and John Carradine. Now it is the undistinguished Movetown Plaza Shopping Center. Not even a plaque exists to commemorate a fascinating era 60 years ago when movies were made cheap in six days.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Reporter Leckie Pens Profound War Memoir

(USMC Leckie Photo)
The Emmy winning HBO series “The Pacific”, the World War II drama, is based on the biographies of Robert Leckie (1920 to 2001) and Eugene Sledge. Leckie”s book, “Helmet for My Pillow” is emotionally charged and compelling. In the miniseries, actor James Badge Dale portrayed Leckie, known as Lucky.
Leckie was very lucky to survive jungle rot, malaria, madness, scorpions, snakes and time in the brig while too many of his Marine comrades were sidelined by determined Japanese and suicide. His war resume includes Guadalcanal, New Britain and the Pelelu holocuast where he suffered a concussion that ended this sickening nightmare.
Private Leckie, a newspaper reporter, reaches deep into his soul, sharing his inner most thoughts in 1957, 12 years after the war. “I stood among the heaps of dead. They lay crumpled, useless, defunct” (in New Britain). His summation on the follies of war is profound: “Father forgive us for the awful cloud . . . rising over Hiroshima . . . burst a bomb, shatter a people, explode the world.” The war for Leckie was a “strength of ordeal" and was his “sacrifice ”.
One of the lighter moments in the book and miniseries is the “great debauch” --- wine women and song in Melbourne with very little singing. This memorable but gaudy scene was recreated in the miniseries: As the ship pulls out of the harbor to the shrieking din of thousands of girls, the Marines and sailors let loose a dramatic aerial display of inflated condoms. For the women of the west and Australia, Leckie observes: “We who are about to die insult you.” Many Australian ladies were generous in their appreciation to the “bloody Yanks” for keeping a stubborn enemy from their shores.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

President Cooolidge's Packard at Florida Museum

Here's the Packard that President Calvin Coolidge rode in. It's on display at the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum.

Monday, January 02, 2012

"Until They Sail", a New Zealand War Story

My Auntie Pearl Davis Zarkin, who is long decreased sad to say, could tell this story better than anyone, but the 1957 MGM movie “Until They Sail” with Paul Newman and Jean Simmons is a good place to start. It is based on a James Michenor novel which may be worth a look. Despair and disruption caused by war are common themes and the Rank film, “The Way to the Stars”, is a compelling look from the British perspective.

“Loneliness everywhere and hunger” is the haunting refrain voiced by the Newman character as New Zealand women cope with World War Two, the Yank sailors and marines presence in their ports and the loss of their men in the Pacific and North Africa to the war. This would be known by my Auntie Pearl who at that time lived in Auckland, NZ, although I could never hear loneliness and hunger in her whimsical discourse. She brought joy and merriment to our family when she arrived in Spokane in the late 1940s with her husband, Uncle Morrie. I can picture her now with her Dame Edna glasses and spike heels. Uncle Morrie called her “Mary”.

“Until They Sail” is a yarn that tears me apart. The character played by Joan Fontaine asks the character played by Charles Drake: “Why did you Americans come here?” and he replies, “Because of the war.” Heartbreaking loneliness and desire drive New Zealand women to affairs with the Yank sailors and marines against the backdrop of perceived guilt in cheating on their brave New Zealand fighting men. At one point they pinpoint on a map where the American and New Zealand forces are fighting and as casualties mount they destroy the map.

Four sisters are central in the plot. Some want to remain in Christchurch, NZ, while one is eager to get to America. One has a child by a Yank marine who dies in the Pacific. U.S. Navy bureaucracy delays their marriage until it is too late. The American presence in this beautiful land is incredibly disruptive on many levels. In the HBO TV series Pacific, an Australian woman refuses marriage to a Yank marine because she foretells his fate.

My Uncle Morrie was a sailor on a US Navy supply ship in the Pacific when he met Auntie Pearl in Auckland where they were married. Lack of job opportunities and possibly annoying in laws in Auckland prompted my aunt and uncle to move permanently to Spokane, WA, where my uncle was in the scrap metal business and then managed a downtown bar. Auntie Pearl’s people skills and warm personality made her quite successful at Leed’s Shoe Store in downtown Spokane for many years. They had a cozy home on the South Hill with a bar and slot machine in the basement and a dog named Boozer.

What remains from Auntie Pearl is a silver cup inscribed “David” which belonged to her father David Davis. She was quite fond of her stepsister Gladys and made several trips to Auckland as I recall. Auntie Pearl may have seen “Until They Sail” and certainly she would approve of Paul Newman in his Navy uniform.

UPDATE from Sam Gurewitz: The Battle of Tinian was a battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II, fought on the island of Tinian in the Mariana Islands from 24 July 1944 to 1 August 1944. Three cousins, Sam Gurewitz (Seabees), Morrie Zarkin (Navy) and Louis Agranoff (Marine Corps) were reunited on the island of Trinian in 1943 for less than a day. All three survived the war. Sam and the Seabee sailors constructed the airfield in Tinian where the plane Enola Gay took off to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The three cousins were about 20 when they saw active duty.