The Monday Matinee, Episode 11: A Queen in Chains

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2017 by dcairns

Last we saw, Gene Autry was unconscious and at the mercy of a clunky robot wielding an oxyacetaline torch, a robot too dumb to tell the difference betweetn the portly troubador’s head and the shell casings it’s supposed to be smelting. To have Gene simply wake up and get out the way would be anticlimactic, so the authors of THE PHANTOM MENACE Episode 11 have Gene’s buddies Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross rush in and drag his limp and lumpen form out of harm’s way.

Now read on ~

The Comedy Cowboy Sidekicks have been doing good work as fake robots, but now start to disrobe(ot). The partway stage results in a surprising resemblance to Bill & Ben, the Flowerpot Men.

The faithless Chancellor Argo issues new Disintegrator Guns to his gang of mutineers — immediately, using deft lasso-work and force of personality, a revived Gene seizes a rebel appliance from the rebel alliance and sets off to free Queen Tika. God knows, the show has left us no reason to find the frigid, murderous monarch sympathetic, so this is bracingly overt realpolitik — she promised to free Gene, whereas Argo’s science guys wanted to vivisect his “breathin’ structure.”Gene shrewdly surmises which is the better deal.

Interesting scene of the rebels sorting through corpses — their allies go to the Radium Reviving Chamber for revival (because radium raises the dead, natch) and their enemies to the Lime Pit. I shouldn’t be completely surprised if we see that lime pit as a cliffhanger before long, since the odd economy of the serial dictates that anything mentioned ought to be seen. If you’ve gone to the effort of imagining it, might as well build it.

With a noise like a wardrobe full of bowling balls falling downstairs, Gene and his sidekicks hide themselves under tarps to impersonate corpses.

Enthroned, the usurper Argo instigates a reign of terror in no way different from his predecessor’s. The Queen, meanwhile, is not only in chains as per the title, she’s been made to stand in the corner like a naughty schoolgirl while her more loyal underlings get their death sentences. If disgruntlement had not long since reached the state of being a permanent condition with, she’d probably be pretty peeved. As it is, Dorothy Christy makes the same expression she does when talking on Skype, looking at car race footage, or being married to Stan Laurel. She may not be versatile but she’s consistent. Runs the gamut of emotions from A to just before B.

The CCS’s (Comedy Cowboy Sidekicks) are taken to the Reviving Chamber and we see what happens when you try to revive somebody who’s already alive. Laid out under a perspex cover (to protect the operators, I guess), Bill or Ben or whatever his name is starts twitching and yelping as hots sparks jet out of his underside.

Meanwhile, Gene is eavesdropping as usual, while Argo forces Tika to watch her underlings being zapped in the chamber of death. The Queen, who has shown a fondness for television throughout this serial, is now tragically compelled to witness mass executions on it. Isn’t there anything on the other side? The slain underlings are to be carted off to the Cavern of the Doomed, but it’s not certain if this is the same as the Lime Pit or if we’ll get to see either. Maybe they’re like FLASH GORDON’s “bore worms” — a big tease. But now Argo promises Tika a slow death caused by “Rab’s Disintegrating Atom Smashing Machine” — and THAT is much too big a come-on to go unrepresented. We rub our hands with glee at the thought of Rab and his smashing machine. We scent a cliffhanger!

Rab (good Scottish name, and he does look a but like a young Ian Bannen, demonstrates his smashing machine. Gloating sadism is the keynote of this performance. What follows is some stupendous repartee:

“Now as the ray is turned on you, you would be suffering PAIN. But all feeling would stop the moment the notch is turned to this. Because you would be PARALYSED. And now the very atoms of your body would be disintegrated.”

“I would give me pleasure if the same were to happen to you.”

“But… it won’t.”

It’s like Noel Coward has eschewed the English drawing room in favour of the subterranean kingdom.

“I never heard a… queen scream,” smarms Rab, but somehow we don’t quite believe him.

This actor, Warner Richmond, was a stunt-riding Wisconsonite (sounds like a deadly space metal, I know) who played for DeMille, Ford and Walsh in his time. It’s typical of this serial that everyone in it can ride a horse even if they never have to. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Her Highness Queen Tika set off at a canter sometime, if she’s not disintegrated.

Gene arrives in the nick of time to get himself cliffhangered: a guard knocks him in the path of the smashing machine’s ray and he makes a face like he’s being disintegrated. Assuming this process is interrupted before it becomes fatal, can this serial get through its final installment with even a partially disintegrated leading man? True, there’s enough Gene Autry to spare, one might think, but nobody can convince me that a disintegrating atom smashing machine will have merely a slimming effect is used at a low setting. It’s aiming right at Gene’s face. Are we to be forced to watch the adventures of a hero with a semi-disintegrated head? Is such a spectacle suitable for children?

Tune in next week for the answers to these, and other questions!


The Sunday Intertitle: Kick

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2017 by dcairns

This is one thing I watched on Saturday — KID BOOTS, starring Eddie Cantor and Clara Bow and Billie Dove. Yes, I know, Eddie Cantor gets all the pussy.

I underrated Cantor the silent comic — he’s pretty funny here, and very agile. Director Frank Tuttle, who staged some of the best bedroom farce stuff ever in MISS BLUEBEARD (Bebe Daniels and Raymond Griffith) does a fine job with more slapstick situational stuff here. Plus Clara is gorgeous and appealing and fiery.

This is a truncated version — the one we saw in Bologna has an extra two reels, courtesy of the researches of David Stenn in the Paramount archives. He introduced the film with Kevin Brownlow and stated his view that the next generation of miraculous film rediscoveries will be those that have been lurking unrecognized in studio vaults all along.

Sample intertitles:

“Excuse me — I didn’t know you were the lady I was kicking!”

And, while Eddie and Clara are dangling from a cliff together: “I’m not in any position to ask you, but when I get on my feet, will you marry me?”

Questions, questions

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on June 24, 2017 by dcairns

I am in Bologna, after a long but remarkably stress-free trip. Plans to dine with one set of friends immediately derailed though and I ended up sharing zuppa inglese with Jonathan Rosenbaum, a rare kind of double pleasure in terms of nourishment and fascinating company. I attempted to defend some of my favourite white elephant artists. Then I wandered to the Piazza Maggiore to see THE GRADUATE but arrived so late that I would have had to stand at the back all through it — to spare my feet, I just watched the opening and headed back to the pensione.

Today sees the official start of Il Cinema Ritrovato so should give me more to report…