Archive for May, 2017


Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , on May 31, 2017 by dcairns

SLAVE SHIP (1937) is a uniquely horrible thing. A Hollywood drama “about” the slave trade, it has a slave ship captain as hero and no black characters of any kind. The black faces are treated as cargo by the movie as much as they are by the white characters. And at the climax, they’re all chained together and tossed overboard.

Admittedly, the film intends to create suspense out of this and make you hope that the chain will be cut and the drowning stopped. But it still shows you dozens of screaming people dunked in the drink, never to be rescued. And this is spectacle. If they were white civilians in jeopardy, we all know the rescue would have to come much sooner, maybe even before the first fatality. Who movies make disposable tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.

(Warner Baxter pauses to exchange words with Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Allan before walking, slowly, to the rescue.)

Tay Garnett directed this, sad to report. Zanuck produced, which strikes me as revealing.


Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2017 by dcairns

SHALL WE DANCE is perhaps not quite as good as THE GAY DIVORCEE or TOP HAT but then nothing is. It has Fred and Ginger and Gershwin tunes and Mark Sandrich directing a script by a whole gang including series regulars Adrian Scott and Ernest Pagano.

Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore (as Cecil Flintidge: clearly a role he was born for) are back as support for Fred and Ginger, but there’s no Erik Rhodes this time — Fred has taken the funny foreigner part for himself. He plays Peter P. Peters, whose stage name, Petrov, causes Ginger to expect him to be a sombre, pompous Russian ballet star before she’s met him. Overhearing her remarks, Fred resolves to BE a stage Russian (for some reason, Fred always sets out to annoy Ginger when they first meet).

His goofy Russian is hilarious, though, part Erik Rhodes, part Lugosi. He prances about the room, striking Slavic attitudes, he says “Ochi Chernye” as if it were a greeting, and ends with “I mos’ go. I mos’ go to Mos-go!” Very silly indeed.

Fred also dances with the art deco engine room of the Queen Anne, a film first. RKO’s idea of an ocean liner is probably somewhat credible — I bet 1930s liners really were built in the streamlined style. But I doubt their engine rooms were white, moderne palaces of engineering with mirrored floors and a spare double bass to slap.

The movie is so entertaining it can delay the appearance of Blore for almost half its length, and wait even longer for Fred and Ginger to dance together. We get They All Laughed and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off (on rollerskates!), and lots of crazy farce plotting, including an uncanny development where Jerome Cowan tries to substantiate the fake news that Astaire & Rogers are married by smuggling a sort of fembot duplicate of Miss R. into Fred’s bedchamber.

Later, Fred finds the automaton stashed in a cupboard. His reaction reminded me of someone ~

Pierre Batcheff in UN CHIEN ANDALOU.

Also, Ginger has a very cute little dog.

This little nameless trouper is a natural! He burns up the screen! Fiona thought he was the cutest dog ever — he draws the eye throughout Fred’s rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me by being adorably sleepy. But I had to remind her of the puppy in THE YOUNG IN HEART with the one big dark eyebrow. It’s a close run thing. You can vote on it if you like.

Did he grow up to be the dog from YOJIMBO?

“Jane of Aylesbury” in THE YOUNG IN HEART. Pretty stiff competition.

Film climaxes with the eeriest number of all Fred & Ginger extravaganzas, featuring as it does a chorus of girls in detachable Ginger masks (reminding Fiona of Sheryl Lee removing her face in Twin Peaks: The Return) and also the alarming Harriet Hoctor, a diabolical creature from an alternate dimension, or else a freak born, by a cruel caprice of Mother Nature, with half her body upside down. The feather gown adds to her unreality by making her seem weightless. It’s all a bit much. She never caught on.


The Memorial Day Matinee, Chapter 7: From Death to Life

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 29, 2017 by dcairns

Last seen, Gene Autry was being hit on the chin by a “radium bomb” which exploded and killed him. We’re about to learn how he, in fact, survived.

Now read on…

The makers of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE spared incurred no expense when it came to supporting players. The colossal thug operating the “aerial torpedo” apparatus delivers an Oscar-worthy reaction when the controls fall and smash on the floor, fluttering his massive hands like Zasu Pitts. He legs it and — BOOM!

The cliffhanger is resolved by simply making the contained nuclear blast a non-fatal one. Gene Autry is fine! A little dazed, perhaps. “He still shows a spark of life.” Well, is he likely to need much more than that? Queen Tika receives a Skype call on her “television phone” alerting her to the good news. Things are going well for the Queen today, as for once the phone gives her a decent camera angle, rather than simply broadcasting people’s backs. This angle is puzzlingly advantageous, actually, a high shot of the prone Autry, who might otherwise have been hard to see.

“Take him to the radium reviving chamber,” says the Queen, who, if you’ll recall, ordered Gene executed two episodes ago. And what’s with this reviving radium? Having just been blown to smithereens by a radium bomb, Gene surely has had enough radium to be going on with. He’ll probably shudder at the sight of a watch dial for weeks after this. But, just as a microscopic dose of a virus can serve as a vaccine, a massive dose of radiation, it seems, can counter-act the effects of another massive dose of radiation. Had the bomb-blasted population of Hiroshima cycled over to Nagasaki in time to get a second nuking, they’d presumably have been just peachy. Madame Curie would still be alive today if she’d stopped after an even number of fatal exposures.

Still, the Queen is curious: “Did you know that Gene Autry failed to die?” she asks, and starts to suspect her treasonous counsellor, Argo. “Have I not been a good queen?” she asks the nearest yes-man, who answers according to his job description.

The Junior Thunder Riders are seeking the entrance to Murania. They all wear buckets on their heads. Will they find it?

Since Autry is now “scarcely breathing,” he is entrusted to a big clunky robot so that his transference to the radium reviving chamber will be much, much slower. They want to save his life but they don’t want to appear over-eager.

Argo is worried that Autry will expose him, so he plots to sabotage the operation by getting an underling to cut the power using a special “electric knife.” (Scientific progress in Murania far exceeds our own.)

Gene is brought back to life but his brain is wrong — he can now speak only “the language of the dead” which sounds like slow-motion Yiddish. This is Gene’s finest acting moment thus far, lying flat on his back intoning gibberish in lugubrious tones. A trepanning is proposed to cure him but, really, wouldn’t it be a better serial if he stayed like this for the next five episodes?

Before they can drill a (new) hole in Autry’s head, he recovers the use of his English, but then before they can interrogate him, the power is cut and he is whisked away by Argo’s henchmen. The Queen, in high dudgeon, starts pronouncing his name in the French style, as Autré. You may choose to do likewise, if you wish.

Gene escapes from Argo’s men using his punches. The Queen is anxious to get the power back on so she can use her big floor television. I’m as anxious as she is, as I always look forward to her regal commentary on scenes of surface like. Since this episode doesn’t contain any of note, I’ve written some myself in her style ~


SHOT OF SQUARE DANCE: “Life in Murania is a paradise compared to this mayhem.”


SHOT OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: “How can he be leader? He wears no ruff! Also, jowelly.”

Meanwhile, literally in a cavern, genuinely in a canyon, with any apparent sense of irony excavating for a mine, villainous Professor Beetson is discovered by juveniles Frankie and Betsy. His plans are now known to everybody except the authorities! But then the kids get trapped in the canyon when Beetson pulls up his rope ladder.

Two bits of good luck! 1) Paunchy troubador Autry is a master swordsman! 2) They still use swords in the science city of Murania!

But the chunky songbird’s skills with the blade outstrip his ability to not fall off gangways. Still, this should be an easy cliffhanger to escape from since directors Breezy Easton and Otto Brower haven’t shown us what he’s likely to land in. Probably Murania’s bumper crop of foam rubber lies below. Anyway, we’ve now established that even if its solid concrete and he breaks his skeleton, they can bring him straight back to gibbering life again. So the suspense isn’t what it could be.

To be continued…